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Gemma Dickson

Student reading

Gemma Dickson.
Gemma Dickson


Ask Gemma Dickson about one of the most interesting biochemistry classes she's taken, and she'll tell you about the time she found a never-before-discovered transposable element in a Candida albicans sample.

Transposable element is the name given to mysterious little bits of DNA that, for some reason - no one knows why - duplicate, then move and insert themselves into a different part of the organism's genome. And Otago biochemistry lecturer Dr Russell Poulter happens to be a world authority on the little characters.

"Russell got our lab to carry out some experiments for him, and each group came up with the same result". It was, says Gemma, who is now entering her honours year in Biochemistry, "a very exciting moment".

"The finding was potentially significant, because Candida is a yeast that causes infections in humans. It just opens up another way of possibly being able to target the organism with drugs."

With other universities offering degrees in science, Gemma chose Otago based on its great reputation in the scientific community and the laid-back atmosphere of Dunedin.

Gemma says she aims to "use biochemistry as a stepping stone into the forensic field", and she has discovered there is plenty else to be fascinated by.

In their Honours year, students take charge of their own research, focusing on an aspect of one of the many projects being undertaken in the department. "I'm hoping to get work on a DNA or molecular biology-based project," enthuses Gemma.

"There might be one looking at the molecular basis of memory - that is, how the molecules inside brain cells are involved in information storage. That sounds pretty interesting."