Ashburton College – New Zealand,
University of Melbourne – Australia,
New York University – USA
Secondary school in New Zealand,
Bachelor of Science with Honours,
Berry and fruit picker,
Hospitality – waiting, coffee making,
Teacher and tutor,
Postdoctoral scientist at the Earlham Institute
I’m a protistologist – a scientist who studies protists. Protists are single celled eukaryotic organisms. I grew up in New Zealand, have lived in Australia and the USA, and moved to the UK in 2020 to join the Darwin Tree of Life project, working at the Earlham Institute in Norwich.
I live in the countryside in Norfolk with my husband and work at the Earlham Institute in Norwich. I moved here in 2020 after spending 10 years living in New York City where I did my PhD and worked for a few years at the American Museum of Natural history.
I’ve studied protists (single celled microscopic eukaryotes) since first being introduced to them at university in Australia, where I got a Bachelor of Science in Botany. I’m also a passionate photographer and videographer, and spend a good deal of my time observing and documenting protists under the microscope. I produce photographs and videos of protists that get made into visual content for film and TV, social media, and print. You can see some of my visual work at my website: www.pondlifepondlife.com.
I like horses, and currently have two horses that I spend my time with in the weekends.
I study protists, microscopic single celled eukaryotes that live all around us.
I started my research career when I was at the University of Melbourne. I joined a lab that studies a protist called Toxoplasma gondii, which is a parasite that infects many mammals, including us. In that lab I learned how to genetically modify these parasites to label particular proteins, shut off the function of particular genes, and observe the location of proteins inside the parasite’s cell using antibodies and microscopy. By using these techniques, we investigated the role of a protein in T. gondii, that protein is called the chloroquine resistance transporter, and when we started studying it we didn’t know what its role was in these parasites. We were able to discover that this protein formed part of a vesicle inside the cells that had not been observed before.
For my PhD research I studied a protist called Trichomonas vaginalis, which is a sexually transmitted parasite that infects humans. For my thesis, I used genomics technologies including RNA-Seq and small RNA-Seq to study the role of small RNA molecules in regulating gene expression in this parasite. We found that small RNAs may be involved in shutting down the expression of certain genes in T. vaginalis.
Since finishing my PhD I have worked on sequencing and assembling and studying the genomes of many different protist species. I don’t work on parasite species any more, instead, I work on protist that are free-living, which are found in water and soil and on surfaces all over the world. We want to learn more about the diversity of protist species that are out there, as many other studies have indicated that there are many thousands of protist species that exist, but have not yet been described or observed. We sequence the genomes of these free-living protists to try to learn more about them, and what their roles are in our ecosystems, and how they fit into the evolution of all species on Earth. For example, some a related to important parasites, and we hope we can learn more about the evolution of parasitism by studying protists that are related to parasite species.
I'm currently solving this problem:
We are working on developing a method to isolate single protist cells from the environment, like a pond or a sample of sea water, and extract all the DNA from each cell, sequence it, and assemble it into a genome that will tell us things about the protist cell, like what species it is, and maybe what kind of role it has in its environment.
There are many challenges, for example, there a lots of bacterial cells present in the water samples that we isolate the protists from. The bacteria are often smaller than the protists and some bacterial cells end up getting isolated along with each protist cell. So when we extract and sequence the DNA, we also get all the DNA from the bacteria. Then, when we are analysing the DNA sequence, we have to distinguish the DNA from the bacteria from the protist DNA.
Luckily we work together in a team of people, and other scientists around the world have worked on similar problems, so we can work together and use other people’s work to try to solve our problem.
I'm currently working on these species doing this:
I work on any species of protist. I’ve studied some that are parasitic and live inside our bodies, some that live in ocean water, and many that live in fresh water.
Photos of my equipment:
How has your work progressed recently?
We have established a pipeline to sequences the genome of single protist cells
What have you got planned for your research over the next year?
Sequencing the genomes of lots of different protist species
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Microbial movie maker
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
The professors that taught me about protists at university and all the scientists I've worked with over the years
What was your favourite subject at school?
I didn't like school at all
What did you want to be after you left school?
Were you ever in trouble at school?
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
video game design
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What's your favourite food?
bread and butter
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Ride a horse
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Own a farm,