Doctoral scholarship winner takes CSI approach to fresh water

3 November 2014

Andrew Gilman 

Research Institute winner: Andrew Gilman is receiving up to $85,000 to undertake his PhD at the University of Waikato.

What do you get when you cross ecology with DNA sequencing? Waikato University doctoral student Andrew Gilman is about to find out.

He’s about to start PhD research which looks at using DNA sequencing, or molecular techniques, to comprehensively identify organisms in fresh water samples. This, in turn, will help him assess the level of pollution in the environment that the samples were collected from.

“It’s like investigating a crime scene, except we’ll be using similar techniques to work out what the organisms are within the samples we collect,” Andrew says.

“One of the ways in which we can gauge whether fresh water is polluted is through the species of invertebrates living in that water. This is called bio-monitoring – identifying what organisms are living in a particular environment.”

Research Institute Scholarship winner

Andrew is one of seven recipients to be awarded a 2014 Research Institute Scholarship worth up to $85,000 from the University of Waikato, and will be undertaking his research with the Environmental Research Institute (ERI).

For his research, Andrew will be using molecular techniques to develop a DNA barcoding tool, which he hopes will disclose more about living organisms in fresh water. It’s a method that gives a higher level of detail into the insects living in fresh water ecosystems.

He’ll be working collaboratively with the Faculty of Computing and Mathematical Sciences to develop a programme that breaks down information from the organisms in the samples.

“I’m working on a programme that will in some way give information at multiple levels. For instance, we’ll put sample information into the computer, and the programme will display a cascaded, in-depth list of the organisms and their characteristics.”

A new area of study

He says the field of ecology, combined with molecular biology, is relatively new and he hopes his research will add to what has already been discovered.

“From this research I hope to find that we can quickly and easily get bio-monitoring information using molecular techniques. Because this is an applied form of research it can be adopted widely.”

Although science is his passion, Andrew wasn’t always working in this field. He graduated with a Master in Science from Auckland University 20 years ago, but landed a job as a Business Analyst until he decided to make the move back to science.

“After graduating I was accepted into a dairy industry graduate programme, then I worked for the Dairy Board, then in various analyst roles. It paid the bills, but I’m glad to be coming back to this field.” 

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