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Top Waikato researchers receive prestigious Rutherford Fellowship grants

22 October 2020

Dr Adele Williamson and Dr Jaimie Veale
L-R: Dr Adele Williamson and Dr Jaimie Veale have each received a 2020 Rutherford Discovery Fellowship.

Two top researchers at the University of Waikato have received $800,000 each as part of a 2020 Rutherford Fellowship from Royal Society Te Apārangi.

Rutherford Discovery Fellowships are one of New Zealand’s most prestigious science awards, designed to attract and foster the career development of New Zealand’s early to mid-year researchers.

Dr Adele Williamson is a structural and molecular biologist with an interest in identifying DNA repair systems in bacteria, and Dr Jaimie Veale is a leading researcher in the mental health and social determinants of health for transgender people.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research, Professor Bryony James, says the success of Dr Williamson and Dr Veale reflects the high calibre of research at Waikato and the funding will support these two early career researchers to progress to even greater impact.

Dr Adele Williamson

  • Dr Adele Williamson is a structural and molecular biologist with an interest in identifying DNA repair systems in bacteria, especially those inhabiting extreme environments. In 2019, she was awarded a Marsden Fast-Start grant to investigate the DNA repair systems of the microbes found living in the harsh climate of Antarctica. With this grant, she returned to New Zealand to take up a research fellowship at the University of Waikato.
  • Dr Williamson’s research is titled: ‘In extremis: how bacteria replicate, repair and diversify their genomes in challenging environments’. Through this, she aims to understand how bacteria use different forms of DNA ligase together with other specialised repair enzymes when surviving in challenging environments. She will employ a combination of bacterial genetics, bioinformatics, and structural biology methods to investigate this long-standing evolutionary enigma in bacterial DNA repair systems.
  • Knowledge of the enzymes involved may allow Dr Williamson to identify vulnerabilities in bacterial pathogens that can be exploited as drugs, and to use these enzymes as biotechnological or diagnostic tools. Fundamental aspects of this work will be of high interest to the fields of evolutionary and medical microbiology, as well as ecologists focused on climate change.

Dr Jaimie Veale

  • Dr Jaimie Veale is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Psychology at University of Waikato, where she leads the Transgender Health Research Lab. In 2017 she was awarded a Health Research Council Emerging Researcher First Grant to lead Aotearoa New Zealand’s comprehensive transgender health survey, Counting Ourselves.
  • Dr Veale’s research is titled: ‘Health inequities, social determinants of health, and gender affirmation: transgender health research guided by principles of self-determination and informed consent’. This research will build on the results of the 2018 Counting Ourselves survey, which found serious disparities in the mental health of transgender people in Aotearoa New Zealand, compared with the general population.
  • Dr Veale will also conduct international comparitve research on the extent to which transgender people have autonomy to choose which gender affirmation steps they wish to take, or if they face barriers in the form of medical or legal eligibility criteria.

Dr Williamson and Dr Veale join Associate Professor Melanie Ooi and Dr Jenni Stanley who were awarded a Rutherford Fellowship in 2019, and Dr Adam Hartland who was awarded a Fellowship in 2016.


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