Our last newsletter for 2009 consists mostly of achievements, so it
seems that Genetics Otago members have had an excellent year! Please
accept my personal congratulations to all of you who have done so well.
Notable successes since the last newsletter have been the inaugural
Peter’s message Postgraduate Symposium, the selection of 5 outstanding Summer
Students, being featured in an up and coming artist’s exhibition and
helping teach intermediate students about the wonder of bees!
This year has been all about establishing ourselves. Through the
development of branding, website and launch I think we have made
excellent progress towards establishing Genetics Otago as a vibrant,
introducing collaborative community in the minds of the University, and around
Otago. I would like to thank you all for your help and support, as
together we have built GO into a viable organisation.
Next year we aim to be more outward looking, making better contact
with politicians, funders, the press and business community. I hope you
remain supportive as we adopt novel approaches in order to make
news better connections with these groups!
Plans for 2010 include events to meet the press and business
community; a symposium focusing on psychological genetics in
collaboration with the Centre for Research on Children and Families
featuring a number of overseas experts; presentations to politicians in
Wellington; a possible fund raising event in association with Cure Kids
congratulations and of course, our postgraduate symposium. We have also reserved a
slot in the Otago School of Medical Sciences Seminar programme for an
overseas genetics speaker – so any suggestions would be welcome.
As always if you have ideas, information, or opportunities you think we
should take advantage of, please let us know. Good luck for the holiday
season - I hope you manage to get some research done as well as
enjoying a well-earned break.
c/- Biochemistry Dept.
University of Otago
PO Box 56
Scientific Director of Genetics Otago
Firstly, it should be pointed out that Peter is completely unaware that
he is being featured in this issue (he would have said no to the idea!).
Although many of you are familiar with Peter, Genetics Otago
membership now exceeds 140 (and is growing weekly), so some of
you may not know very much about the person who has campaigned
so hard to establish Genetics Otago...
Starting his scientific career with a BSc Hons from Victoria University in Wellington, Peter went on to
complete his PhD from Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine in London followed by
Postdoctoral research at the University of Cambridge and the University of Western Ontario.
Recently promoted to Associate Professor, Peter is currently based in the Department of
Biochemistry, where he is the principal investigator in the Laboratory for Evolution and Development
studying insect (especially honeybee) genetics. Peter’s primary research interests include trying to
understand how, at the molecular level, morphology evolves; how developmental plasticity arises
and is maintained, and the identification of ancient and conserved developmental pathways.
In the Laboratory for Evolution and Development, Peter supervises a team of eleven, including three
PhD students, two postdocs, and the recent addition of three summer students. The team’s primary
focus is on the developmental processes which produce an animal from an embryo. They are
particularly interested in how these processes change over evolutionary time, resulting in different
forms of an animal. The laboratory studies five aspects of this: evolution of the molecular control of
segmentation in insects; the developmental genetics of polyphenisms in the Honeybee (Apis
mellifera); the evolution of insect axis formation; the molecular control of development in a Rotifer
(Brachionus plicatilis); and the molecular basis of life history tradeoffs.
If one was ever given the opportunity to work alongside Peter Dearden it would become quickly
apparent that they were working with a person who is completely dedicated and passionate about all
aspects of genetic research. From cancer genetics to microbial biology, to law and psychology,
Peter is a man determined that all of Otago’s genetic researchers are supported and recognised.
Of particular note is Peter’s continuing devotion to the advocacy and mentoring of budding young
scientists; with his guidance and support, Peter has provided many young people the opportunity to
As well as being the Director of Genetics Otago, Peter is also Otago site leader for the National
Research Centre for Growth and Development.
Peter lives with his wife, Petra and their three children, Victoria (5), William (3) and Elizabeth (1)
and their dog Eddie.
Genetics Otago Inaugural Postgraduate Symposium
On November 23rd and 24th, 50+ people attended the
Genetics Otago symposium where they had the opportunity
to listen to a diverse and fascinating group of speakers
whose topics of discussion ranged from the legal ethics of
preimplantation genetic diagnosis, through to the research
of epigentics in the placenta.
Plenary speakers were Professor Jim Sikela from the
University of Colorado, who gave a fascinating talk on The
Search for Genes That Made Us Human, and Associate
Professor Jon Waters from Zoology, who enlightened his
audience with a delightfully interactive talk on Evolutionary
Genetics in the Southern Hemisphere.
Postgraduate zoology student David Winter, who won both
the audience and judges’ respect with his talk on
Rarotonga’s landsnails, was awarded as Best Student
Speaker. You may recall that David was our featured
member in our last issue.
Next year’s symposium will be even better than the first so Postgraduate Symposium Speakers
we look forward to seeing you there!
Summer Scholarships Recipients
Selected from an outstanding field of candidates, Genetics
Otago was delighted to announce that the following students
were the successful recipients of the Summer Scholarships:
Justine Anderson, who will further investigate the evidence
found of mixed modes of reproduction in the brooding
brittlestar Ophiomyxa brevirima, under the supervision of
Prof Graham Wallis from the department of Zoology.
Tanya Flynn, who will be working alongside Assoc. Prof
Tony Merriman where they will further research the recent
findings of the strong association of the SLC22A11 gene with
gout in Māori and Pacific Island gout cases and controls.
Kimberley Hughes’ project for the summer will be
studying the Epigenetics and Development in the Honeybee
in Assoc. Prof Peter Dearden’s laboratory.
Tessa Sanders will spend the summer in Dr Christine Genetics Otago Summer Scholarship
Jasoni’s lab where she will be studying how epigenetic recipients and their supervisors (from left
regulation might affect expression of estrogen receptors in to right): Tessa Sanders; Nathan Kenney;
the hypothalamus during the normal onset of puberty. Prof Graham Wallis; Dr Christine Jasoni;
Tanya Flynn; Kimberley Hughes; Justine
Nathan Kenny will be working with Assoc.Prof. Peter Anderson and Assoc Prof Peter Dearden.
Dearden on a project which involves using recently
developed RNAi techniques to study the expression of genes
involved in neuron operation in rotifer.
Health Sciences Divisional Congratulations to Prof Warren
Tate who was awarded a top 10
Forum Poster Winners
Supervisor Award by OUSA!
Congratulations to PhD students Sarah Deng
(Prof Martin Kennedy’s lab) and Erin Daly
(Prof Stephen Robertson’s lab) who won best
poster prizes at the Health Sciences Divisional Genetics Otago Members’
Forum held at UOW in September.
Marsden Funding Success
Genetics Otago warmly congratulates the
Assoc. Prof. Parry Guilford following members on their success in this
year’s Marsden funding:
Gains James Cook Fellowship
Professor Greg Cook (Microbiology &
Associate Professor Parry Guilford has gained
Immunology) Why are Hydrogenases Found in
a James Cook Fellowship to pursue innovative
the Genomes of Aerobic Bacteria? $810,000
research aimed at reversing or preventing the
over three years
early stages of stomach cancer.
The two-year fellowship will allow Prof Guilford, Dr Peter Fineran (Microbiology &
to extend his ground-breaking work on the Immunology) Bacterial protection against
phage infections: converging themes in toxin-
genetics of stomach cancer.
antitoxin and abortive infection systems.
$753,000 over three years
His planned research involves "very promising"
new approaches which could lead to much Professor Neil Gemmell (Anatomy &
earlier detection of stomach cancer and other Structural Biology) Investigating the genetic
common cancers, as well as potentially enabling basis for and adaptive significance of cryptic
therapies to be undertaken much earlier. female choice in an external fertiliser the
chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tschawytscha).
Parry’s fellowship programme is titled Epigenetic $870,000 over three years
approaches to cancer prevention and therapy
Dr Stephanie Hughes (Biochemistry) The
and starts next year. Transcription Factor Code: maintaining neuronal
For more information on Assoc. Prof. Guilford: identity and function in the adult brain.
http://www.otago.ac.nz/genetics/staff/guilford.html $935,000 over three years
Professor Stephen Robertson (Women's
Genetics Otago Members’ and Children's Health) The Two Faces of WTX
in Human Development. $840,000 over three
Academic Promotions years
Out of the 12 recent professorial promotions, 3
Dr Tina Summerfield (Botany) Regulation of
were members of Genetics Otago! Our
photosynthetic electron transport under low
congratulations to Professor Martin Kennedy,
oxygen conditions: implications for sustained
Professor Graham Wallis and Professor Iain
hydrogen production $300,000 over three years
Lamont on their well-deserved promotions. For
(Fast Start grant)
more information on these members’
achievements : Further information on these Marsden successes can
http://www.otago.ac.nz/genetics/news/ be found at: http://www.otago.ac.nz/genetics/news/
Genetics Otago Members Elected as Royal Society Fellows
Congratulations to advisory committee member Professor Hamish Spencer and Professor Andy
Mercer who were recently elected as Fellows of The Royal Society of New Zealand.
To be elected as a Fellow is an honour conferred for distinction in research or the advancement of
science or technology.
Royal Society Fellows are involved in providing expert advice, promoting scientific best practice and
disseminating scientific information.
For more information on Hamish Spencer: http://www.otago.ac.nz/genetics/staff/spencer.html
For more information on Andy Mercer: http://www.otago.ac.nz/genetics/staff/mercer.html
Honorary Genetics Otago (arts) Member!
A warm welcome and congratulations to Julia
Johnstone, an ultra-talented young
photographer from The School of Art who
gained top marks in her final year examination
exhibition which included an interpretation of
a genetics laboratory.
Julia has a specific interest in the sciences and
will be continuing her work in this field,
including a commission with Genetics Otago
early next year.
At right and below are examples of Julia’s
work (which will also be posted on our
website) or you can view more of her work on
Julia can be contacted on 027 728 9829 or