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Members of Microbiology: Meet Cecilia Wang 

Thursday 16 September 2021 9:03am

Cecilia Wang image
Cecilia Wang

While completing her final year in the Department of Microbiology, PhD candidate Cecilia Wang took the time to share her research on agricultural microbiomes and what brought her to the University of Otago.

Wang’s research uses sequencing techniques to better understand the microbial diversity, composition, function and interactions occurring across various farm habitats; from those existing in the soil, through to those in the rumen (the first stomach of a cow).

“Farming is a big deal both locally and internationally, with over three quarters of agricultural land dedicated to livestock farming,” Wang explains.

“I believe that micro-organisms will be the key to improving livestock farming in the future, in the aspect of both providing food and making the farming process more sustainable.”

Her research also addresses the myriad of environmental problems farming causes, such as the huge amount of methane gas produced by dairy farming, with each cow releasing over 200L of methane into the atmosphere daily.

“Though it was challenging learning English and adjusting to the New Zealand accent, I knew that the University of Otago was the only one in the country with a Department of Botany and that piqued my curiosity and encouraged me to come complete my studies here.”

“This large quantity of greenhouse emissions is all caused by a group of microbes inside ruminants like cows and so learning more about the rumen microbiomes could help take the country one step closer to increasingly economical and sustainable farming,” Wang says.

Wang explains that her research stemmed from her work experience with Dr Xochital Morgan, after she was given the opportunity to be her research assistant in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

While there, she set up at the lab and was mentored on how vital microbiomes are for any ecosystem on the Earth, ultimately inspiring her PhD research into the microbiomes of livestock on farms.

Having achieved a master’s in phylogenetics in NZ Cortinarius (a species of mushroom) prior to this, Wang felt this subject was an inspiring new challenge, after overcoming a previous challenge in her bachelors.

This included her needing to immigrate from Mainland China to New Zealand and learn a whole new language.

“From when I was young, I knew I wanted to work in the field of biological sciences and so when it got to the stage of applying for university, I made the decision to move because of the countries great education and unique ecosystems,” she explains.

“Though it was challenging learning English and adjusting to the New Zealand accent, I knew that the University of Otago was the only one in the country with a Department of Botany and that piqued my curiosity and encouraged me to come complete my studies here.”

In her spare time, Wang entertains hobbies such as felting, knitting, baking and coding.