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The College of Science at the University of Canterbury delivers high quality learning through teaching that builds on our research excellence.

Biodiversity, biosecurity and monster hunting with eDNA

Environmental DNA, or eDNA, is a smorgasbord of organic materials left behind by living things as they pass through their environment. Can we use these trace genetic materials to study the species that inhabit these environments – and maybe even find the Loch Ness monster? 👨‍🔬

The UC Marine Ecology Research Group is proud to present a fun and informative seminar and chat session with University of Otago Distinguished Prof Neil Gemmell, a renowned NZ genetic ecologist and science communicator. In his talk titled ‘Environmental genetics for biodiversity, biosecurity and monster hunting’, Prof Gemmell will speak about using eDNA for monitoring aquatic systems for fisheries, conservation, and biosecurity, including a rollicking tale of Loch Ness monster hunting from an evolutionary science and genetics lens.

When and where: Friday 20 Nov, Meremere 108, 5pm – all are welcome!
RSVP: zoe.smeele@canterbury.ac.nz before 19th Nov.
More info on the UC Science Facebook.

Environmental genetics for biodiversity, biosecurity and monster hunting
Environmental DNA, or eDNA, is a smorgasbord of organic materials left behind by living things as they pass through their environment.  This trace material is increasing being used to make sense of previously hard to study species, communities and ecosystems on land, in the air, and in the water. In marine systems we are testing the power of eDNA approaches for rapid and accurate assessments of biodiversity and ecosystem health. We have explored the potential of eDNA uses in several marine settings and found extraordinary spatial resolution in the eDNA work. I discuss our findings in the context of monitoring aquatic systems for fisheries, conservation, and biosecurity. I also relate a rollicking tale of Loch Ness monster hunting that captured the imagination of the public and media and presented an unprecedented opportunity to talk about genetics and evolutionary science in a fresh way.

About Prof Gemmell:
Neil is a Sesquicentennial Distinguished Professor and holds the AgResearch Chair in Reproduction and Genomics at the University of Otago. His research blends ecology, population, conservation and evolutionary biology with leading-edge genomic technologies.  A recurring research theme is that of reproduction, with projects spanning mating systems, mate choice, sperm function, sex determination, sex allocation, and inter-sexual genomic conflict. He recently gained global recognition for his investigation of one of the world’s most mysterious bodies of water, Loch Ness, using the latest environmental DNA approaches.

Postgrad Student Blog: The not-so-obvious choices

Postgraduate study is a lot more than the degree itself: it’s also a chance to understand the universe, and yourself, in your own unique way, says UC postgrad student Dr Sriparna Saha.

It is often said that pursuing a PhD is a matter of choice, and I couldn’t agree more. It has almost been a year since I started my second doctoral degree at the University of Canterbury. Whenever I have been asked how far along I am in my PhD journey and responded with 1st year of my second PhD, I have seen the look of incredulity on peoples’ faces ending with the same question each time, “Why.”

Why indeed?

It indeed is hard to justify choices to people when things are viewed from a lens of social norm, of things that one is expected to do, or career paths one is expected to follow. Even in academia, conformity lies in pursuing a postdoc as an independent researcher immediately after finishing up a postgrad, and keep at it till one lands a tenure track research position.

What, however, is not obvious is that there may be people who want to experiment and pursue careers that lie outside the spectrum of the obvious.

Academia is replete with stories of how the persistence to pursue a non-obvious career choice is seen as a sign of abandonment. But where amidst all this conformity is the space for the self, to bring in our other non-science passions and interests into the research we care so much about?

This is what I tell people.

While I loved cooking rocks in a highly prestigious experimental lab to understand how continents formed about 4 billion years ago, I felt restricted when I couldn’t bring my art, my interests in writing, storytelling and teaching to the lab.

It took me a while to realize that the postgraduate degree is a lot more than the degree itself. Of course you eventually become an expert in your field, but most importantly, it is an opportunity to understand the universe in your own way.

As with most other things in making life choices, the value of the postgrad degree is relative to what you want to do, and what it is that other people use to judge your version of success. It truly is about learning skills that inspire you each day to enquire and understand the world around you in different ways.

When I look back, I feel fortunate to have worked with people who have given me the space to make these not-so-obvious choices, and supported them no matter what.

At the end of the day, it is not about making it easy, but finding the niche, that space where every challenge can make you realize the value of pursuing your dreams.

This article was first published on 7 September 2020, on the UC Science Blog.

Dr Sriparna Saha is a 2nd year postgraduate student in GeoEducation at the University of Canterbury, where she is using Digital Storytelling for Volcano Risk Literacy. She has a PhD (2019) in Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences from Rice University (USA), where she used experiments to understand the origin of continents. She feels strongly for communicating science and art and is continuously looking for innovative ways to blend the two.

Come along to the Change Direction Postgraduate Expo (10-17 September) for a range of information sessions where you can find out more about postgraduate study options and pathways at UC. Check out the timetable and register free here.

Change Direction Postgraduate Expo

Graduate and postgraduate study provides you with specialist skills and applied experience. It can also open up a new career direction.

Do you have an intellectual curiosity about a specialist topic? Maybe you wish to boost your employment or develop your career, or change direction completely?

Check out the great opportunities that postgraduate study can offer you, at the Change Direction Postgraduate Expo from 15-17 September at UC.  Find out more and register here.