We did it!!! (we made the Paketi Fish of the Year 2024)

We might have not had the backing of John Oliver for the Paketi (Spotty) campaign for Fish of the year, but that didn’t stop us!!! Our little Paketi has now been crowned NZ Fish of the Year 2024, wohooo!

Spotty/ Paketi Fish of the year 2024!!!

Worth mentioning that along with the Gemmell Lab, the Paketi campaign was also being supported by Marine Invaders, an educational marine biosecurity game to protect taonga species, developed by the University of Waikato. So an elegant take off the hat nod to this special crew for finding clever ways to raise awareness on Marine Biosecurity matters across all ages!


Vote and make the Spotty/ Paketi as the 2024 Fish of the year!!!

Meet the New Zealand Spotty Wrasse! Found anywhere along the Aotearoa coastline, this fin-tastic fish not only can change its spots, it can change its sex! Dive in and help the spotty secure the top spot(ty)!

All credit to Haylee Quertermous for making the poster and pushing this little fish’s impressive election campaign!

To vote, click on this link, or click on the poster.


Dr. William Pearman, please!

William has now defended this PhD thesis right at the end of 2023, and spent his last few weeks in the Gemmell lab fine tuning some protocols and finishing a couple of projects, before heading back up North and starting his new life as a paid worker as a PostDoctoral Fellow with Anna Santure, at the University of Auckland.

We wish you all the best in your new ventures, William!

William Pearman in a rare fieldwork outing

Gert-Jan wins the OUSA Supervisor of the Year Award for the Sciences Division!

Gert-Jan celebrating finishing his PhD thesis at Ombrello’s.

Every year the Otago University Student Association, or OUSA for short, holds the Supervisor of the Year Awards for each Division. Students that wish to recognise their supervisors’ efforts in supporting their research can put forward their nomination earlier in the year.

Gert-Jan was overseas at the time of the announcement and for the prize giving award, but Neil was happy to step in and receive the award on his behalf.

Winners and finalists of the OUSA Supervisor of the Year awards 2023; back row, Dr Nathan Kenny. Middle row, from left, Prof. Leigh Hale, Dr Ashraful Alam, Dr Duminda Kuruppuarachchi and Acting Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Health Sciences, Prof. Neil Gemmell on behalf of Dr Gert-Jan Jeunen. Front row, from left, Dr Gwynaeth McIntyre, Ass. Prof. Andrea Insch, Ass. Prof. Candida Savage, Dr Caroline Decourt, Research Ass. Prof. Jill Haszard and Ass. Prof. Julia Albrecht.

A very well deserved recognition indeed! Congratulations, Gert-Jan!


Allison Miller presents at the Indo-Pacific Fish Conference in Auckland, November 2023

Allison recently presented a poster at the Indo-Pacific Fish Conference, entitles “FFPE archival tissues can inform us about novel pathogens and can likely inform us of genomic responses to environmental change”.

The poster showcases Allison’s latest research results deriving from the use of archival FFPE preserved tissues in the differential expression and gene ontology analysis, comparing modern samples with older ones to get a sense of what different pathogens and genomic responses are there.

Allison Miller by her poster at the Indo-Pacific Fish Conference.

Gemmell Lab well represented at the 2023 ICG in Melbourne

Several Gemmell Lab members were over in Melbourne in July to showcase their research to the XXIII International Congress of Genetics, where the overarching theme was Genetics & Genomics: Linking Life & Society.  The Congress was aiming at covering the breadth of fundamental discoveries in genetics and genomics, the latest advances in technologies, and important and topical applications in areas such as health, agriculture and the conversation of species and the environment. Our team delegation was a group of 7 hailing from little Dunedin, New Zealand: Neil Gemmell himself, Alana Alexander, Gert-Jan Jeunen, Kristen Fernandes, Chloé Van Der Burg, Benjamín Durán-Vinet, and Monica Vallender.

Neil Gemmell giving a plenary presentation on day 2 of the Conference: ” Fishing for Insights in Sex Determination, Differentiation and Reproductive Biology”.
Loving the red shoes!
Gert-Jan Jeunen with his presentation entitled “Molecular time-capsules – reconstructing Antarctica’s marine ecosystem using historical and contemporary eDNA from marine sponge specimens” on the 4th day of the congress.
Go, sponges!
Kristen Fernandes presented also on day 4 a talk entitled “Expanding the applicability of eDNA metabarcoding through data reuse: insights for landscape-scale ecology and invasive species monitoring”.
Look at those elasticated cuffs… I’m getting lab coat envy.
Benjamín Durán-Vinet ditched his usual T-shirt outfit and put on a suit to give his presentation “CRISPR-based detection for marine biomonitoring: deep learning modelling as a novel tool for smart CRISP RNA designs” on the last (but not least!) day of the conference.

Alana Alexander presented a poster entitled “Pātai (questions) about Parāoa: Molecular ecology of sperm whales“.

Chloé van Der Burg next to her poster entitled “Uncovering the cellular and molecular mechanisms of sex change in the New Zealand Spotty Wrasse”. Great poster colours, Chloé!
Monica Vallender next to her poster ” Genotyping-by-sequencing reveals male-female relatedness influences cryptic female choice in Chinook Salmon” in yet another international conference – this girl is on fire!

Lastly, a shot of one of the conference photographers took a snap of a lovely moment shared between Ben and his family which were right there beside him for this special occasion! Such an inspiring family, you guys are awesome!

Benjamín Durán-Vinet enjoying a quiet moment with wife Karla and son Maximo.

Monica Vallender and Anna Clark at the 2023 SMBE in Italy

Two of the Gemmell lab’s most charming PhD students set out to vine, vidi, vici in Ferrara Italy in July with their presentations! Anna ran a symposium at SMBE entitled “Leveraging evolution: controlling wild populations using gene drives and pathogens” and also did a poster presentation. 

Anna Clark by her poster at SMBE.

Monica did a poster presentation at SMBE entitled “Genotyping-by-Sequencing Reveals Male-Female Relatedness Influences Cryptic Female Choice in Chinook Salmon”. Monica’s presence in Italy was facilitated by the 2020 SMBE undergraduate travel and mentoring award (conferred to her this year due to Covid disruptions).

Monica Vallender by her poster at SMBE

Well done to our fabulous girls!


Allison Miller’s Doctoral Thesis listed as Exceptional!

A thesis is of exceptional quality when the Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the relevant Division agrees with the unanimous recommendation of all three examiners that the thesis is exceptional in 4 standards: research content, originality, quality of expression, and accuracy of presentation.

Every year 10% of all thesis are recognised to be exceptional, and this year Allison’s thesis was one of them!

So deserved, Allison, well done!!!

Allison Miller
Dr. Allison Miller


eDNA Outreach at the Otago Museum

On Friday 17th 2023, the University of Otago team (from Gemmell’s lab) alongside the Marine Biosecurity Toolbox had a booth at the ‘All the small things´ event hosted by the Otago Museum and led by Genomics Aotearoa. The event goal was to showcase the environmental DNA research happening at the University of Otago to incoming students, their families and the community.

Benjamín Durán-Vinet to the left, and Jackson Treece, to the right.

The DETECT team representatives ( Jo StantonJackson Treece and Benjamín Durán-Vinet) set up a portable isothermal amplification technique demonstration known as LAMP (Loop-mediated isothermal amplification) to portray a rapid, portable, simple and highly specific environmental DNA detection tool that could be used by non-scientific users. They also spoke about other potential eDNA detection tools, such a Recombinase Polymerase Amplification (RPA) and Clustered Regularly Interspaced Palindromic Short Repeats (CRISPR).

Marine Biosecurity Booth

The booth had several enthusiastic non-scientific volunteers that listened about the importance of eDNA and LAMP potential. They then went through a quick walkthrough of micropipetting to perform a LAMP reaction by themselves by adding 2 uL of sample into the mastermix. Moreover, only 30 minutes later, they were able to directly witness the output of their great work, which worked perfectly. Therein, showcasing its ease-to-use, portability, and accessibility for in-field applications. They were thrilled and happy to see their results and how the Marine Biosecurity Tool is developing new and better tools to keep our marine ecosystem safe.

Volunteer checking her results
Pipetting not as easy as it looks…

Gemmell Lab wins BMS Bake-Off Public Choice Prize

Gemmell Lab BMS Bake-Off competition cake: Vanilla sponge with chocolate frosting mountains with a blueberry jelly lake populated by a pink moulding chocolate Nessie among other eDNA traced elements.

This was the first time the Biomedical School of Sciences (BMS) held this competition, and we would like to think that we set a good standard for the following years!

A vanilla sponge smothered in dark chocolate ganache was the base for a mountain landscape and a blueberry jelly lake where lampreys, other fish, kelp and Sponge Bob shared their environment with Nessie and Lego Neil!

The cake was of course inspired by the lab’s work around eDNA, and the media hype Neil and Gert-Jan received during their Loch Ness adventure (see what was found during this adventure on our Supernatural History research page).