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A postgraduate research opportunity at the University of Otago.


Close date
Friday, 21 July 2023
Academic background
Health Sciences, Sciences
Host campus
Professor Neil Gemmell, Dr Gert-Jan Jeunen, Dr Michael Knapp


Environmental DNA (eDNA), genetic material obtained directly from environmental samples (soil, sediment, water, etc.) without any obvious signs of biological source material, is emerging as one of the most revolutionary technologies for exploring and monitoring our natural world (Thomsen & Willerslev 2015). It fills a critical data gap for temporal ecology, providing data over long time periods with high taxonomic breadth that enables the long-term dynamics of populations, species, communities, and ecosystems in changing environments to be detected. Previous research conducted by our multi-group team proved the ability of aquatic eDNA metabarcoding to accurately describe marine communities on small spatial scales (Jeunen et al., in press), opening up the prospect to use eDNA as a monitoring method in our costal marine environment. However, sampling for environmental DNA is time consuming, particularly where large numbers of samples, and large volumes of material need to be processed. This process can be automated, generally at significant cost, but we think there may be a better approach: organisms that naturally filter and accumulate eDNA (e.g. mussels, barnacles and sponges) could be the solution to reduce sampling effort, and overall cost, thereby enabling large-scale eDNA biomonitoring programs, biodiversity descriptions and monitoring of inaccessible environments, and tracking of migratory organisms.

Why you should study with us

The Department of Anatomy provides:

  • Supervision by staff who are nationally and internationally recognised in their fields of research.
  • PhD supervisory committees that will provide assistance to both you and your supervisor during your candidature.
  • Provision of appropriate research and study spaces.
  • Access to state-of-the-art research equipment and support services.
  • Provision of computing resources and support.
  • Project costs.
  • A vibrant, active postgraduate student group.
  • Access to NZ$5,000 towards conference travel.


Applicants will have completed a degree with a research component or have equivalent research experience. The New Zealand / United Kingdom degree equivalent is an honours degree, or master's, in a relevant discipline. You will need to have completed these to a first class or distinction standard.

Applications will only be accepted by email to the following address:

Applications must include:

  • The PhD project for which you wish to apply
  • A copy of your CV
  • A copy of your academic transcript
  • A copy of your research dissertation or thesis
  • Written statement (300–500 words) outlining why this project interests you
  • The names of two academic referees (one of whom should be your most recent supervisor)
  • Evidence of English language ability (for non-native English speakers)

As part of the final selection procedure, prospective candidates may be asked to attend an interview (via video conference).


The University of Otago and the Department of Anatomy offer scholarships to suitably qualified students. These will normally provide a tuition fee waiver (full-time fees in 2019 are NZ$9,951 per annum) and provide a stipend of NZ$27,000 per annum for up to 36 months.

To be eligible for consideration for a scholarship, candidates will normally have completed their degree with research component, or equivalent, to the level of a New Zealand A- (GPA of 7 or above) or better.


Department of Anatomy

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