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Otago Professor New Director of Allan Wilson Centre

Jelly fish

Wednesday 29 February 2012 2:37pm

Prof Hamish SpencerProfessor Hamish Spencer

Professor Hamish Spencer of the University of Otago will be the new Director of the Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution, a New Zealand Centre of Research Excellence hosted at Massey University, its Vice-Chancellor Steve Maharey announced today.

The Centre’s partner organisations are Landcare Research, Plant and Food Research, the University of Auckland, the University of Canterbury, the University of Otago and Victoria University of Wellington.

Professor Spencer is an evolutionary biologist in Otago’s Department of Zoology and has been an investigator in the Allan Wilson Centre since it was founded in 2002. He will replace current director Professor Charles Daugherty of Victoria University in August.

Mr Maharey says that Professor Spencer brings an international research reputation to leadership of the Wilson Centre. “He has the vision and leadership to ensure that the Centre continues its world-leading research, using forefront genomic and biomathematics tools to understand the evolutionary history of plants, animals and humans in New Zealand and the Pacific. I warmly welcome this appointment.”

University of Otago Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne says she is pleased that Professor Spencer’s achievements are being recognised at the national level.

“His research leadership is accompanied by a strong commitment to use new knowledge for national benefit in relevant fields – biodiversity, social development, and human health,” says Professor Hayne.

Professor Spencer studied at the University of Auckland and received his doctorate from Harvard University in 1988. He has a wide range of research interests, having recently published on topics as diverse as the laws and attitudes surrounding first-cousin marriage, origins of human health and disease, mathematical models of natural selection and the evolution of the Galápagos Cormorant.

He is best known for his work on an unusual aspect of mammalian genetics known as genomic imprinting, in which the expression of a gene in an individual differs according to whether it was passed on from the mother or the father. He is a principal investigator in a second centre of research excellence, the National Research Centre for Growth and Development.

Professor Spencer holds an appointment as an honorary academic at the University of Auckland's Liggins Institute and the current David Parkin Visiting Professor at the University of Bath, England. In 2009 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

About the Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution

The Allan Wilson Centre involves 100 researchers at seven institutions advancing knowledge of the evolution and ecology of New Zealand and Pacific plant and animal life, and human history in the Pacific. The centre is named after Otago alumnus Professor Allan Wilson (1934-91), whose Out of Africa hypothesis – that all human beings share a common female ancestor only 10,000 generations ago – changed scientific understanding.

Visit the Allan Wilson Centre website

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