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).


Blood-sucking fish in its own league

Otago Daily Times newspapers

PhD student Allison Miller recently released an article on the Otago Daily Times (ODT) together with Prof. Hamish Spencer about her favourite fish species, the one and only kanakana (piharau of northern iwi) Geotria australis, or pouched lamprey.

Check the ODT article to read all about the New Zealand lamprey!