My tertiary studies have been conducted entirely at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.
I began with a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences with a specialisation in Environmental Science. I focused primarily on ecological and evolutionary courses and developed an appreciation and interest for the big questions in biology relating to evolutionary processes.
I followed on from my undergraduate studies with a Postgraduate Diploma of Science in Wine Science because I was interested in the production of wine and wished to join the wine industry.
During this diploma, however, I became more interested in the biological aspects of wine production and ended up pursuing a Master of Science in Biological Sciences studying the biogeography of wine yeasts within New Zealand. This degree gave me a knowledge and appreciation of molecular biology, microbiology and genetics. It also ignited my interest in scientific research as a career pathway. Towards the end of the Master's degree, I also dabbled in bioinformatics and found the merging of biology with the emerging field of data science deeply interesting.
This interest led me to start a Doctor of Philosophy in Biological Sciences with Dr. Matthew Goddard in October 2011 on the topic of "The Origin, Diversity and Ancestry of Saccharomyces Yeasts in New Zealand". My project involved the three fields of bioinformatics, phylogenetics and population genetics and used emerging high-throughput sequencing technologies to investigate the origins of yeasts associated with winemaking in New Zealand. The project was divided into three main investigations.
First, 52 existing samples of Saccharomyces cerevisiae representing the known diversity of this species in New Zealand were sequenced using whole genome sequencing. The resulting genomes were compared to existing international genomes to place the New Zealand in a global context and infer the historical movement of this species. The results indicated that this species is a relative newcomer to New Zealand and arrived with Europeans. To identify whether New Zealand houses any endemic species of Saccharomyces yeasts, samples of soil, fruit and bark were taken from native trees in the native forests of the North Island. The resulting isolates were identified as not being S. cerevisiae but were in the Saccharomyces genus. This led to a second round of whole genome sequencing of these previously-undescribed species in New Zealand. Phylogenetic analyses indicated that one of the species found is a close relative to South American isolates while the other is a distant relative of a species only isolated in China. Finally, during my analyses I found that while the field of population genetics was using Bayesian clustering for classifying individuals into putative populations, the interpretations of these analyses were often subjective. This prompted me to collaborate with a statistician at my university to create a new method and tool for objectively analysing these outputs.