Dr Leonie Suter, BSc, MSc, PhD

Research interests

I first started working at the Australian Antarctic Division in 2015 on an early postdoc mobility fellowship from the Swiss National Science Foundation, to study the molecular sex determination of Antarctic krill. After a couple of maternity breaks I’m now investigating how environmental DNA (eDNA) can be used to survey the marine environment. All living things continuously shed parts of their bodies into the environment – for marine organisms, this may include scales, moults, faeces, or other dead and decaying tissues, as well as live microscopic organisms. All this organic matter contains the unique DNA code of the organism it belongs to and in the marine environment, this “environmental DNA” gets thoroughly mixed to form a soup of genetic information. We can access this information by taking a small water sample and processing it with genetic and bioinformatics methods, and this way we can determine which organisms live in the marine environment without having directly encountered any of them. This exciting new research focus helps us to determine how species distributions and community compositions change through geographic space and time.

Before I started working at the Australian Antarctic Division, I focused my research on plants: I conducted my master thesis on the sex chromosome evolution of a tree species at the fabulous Kew Gardens in the UK - and my PhD on the role of epigenetics in adaptation to harsh environments in Arabidopsis (an inconspicuous little weed) at the ETH Zurich in Switzerland. Feeling adventurous, I spent the next two years sailing on a small yacht from the high Arctic (Svalbard, Greenland) to the Caribbean, exploring the effects of a changing environment on the marine life and coastal communities, managing a Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Project in West Africa, and discovering my love for all things wild and marine, which doesn’t necessarily come natural to someone from land-locked Switzerland!

Current Projects

Shaping the future use of environmental DNA (eDNA) in Southern Ocean ecosystem monitoring (#4556)

International/national collaborations

CSIRO

University of Tasmania

University of Western Australia

British Antarctic Survey

University of Padua

ETH Zurich

Key outcome areas

Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR)

Related links

Battle of the sexes (https://www.antarctica.gov.au/magazine/issue-38-june-2020/science/battle-of-the-sexes/)

Article/video on eDNA paper (https://www.antarctica.gov.au/news/2020/capturing-marine-biodiversity-with-the-power-of-genetics/)

Publications

Suter L, Polanowski AM, Clarke LJ, Kitchener JA, Deagle BE (2020) Capturing open ocean biodiversity: comparing environmental DNA metabarcoding to the continuous plankton recorder. Molecular Ecology 00: 1-18

Clarke LJ, Suter L, King R, Bissett A, Bestley S, Deagle BE (2020) Bacterial epibiont communities of panmictic Antarctic krill are spatially structured. Molecular Ecology (accepted pending minor revision)

Suter L, Polanowski AM, King R, Romualdi C, Sales G, Kawaguchi S, Jarman SN, Deagle BE (2019) Sex identification from distinctive gene expression patterns in Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba). Polar Biology 42(12):2205-2217.

Clarke LJ, Suter L, King R, Bissett A, Deagle BE (2019) Antarctic krill are reservoirs for distinct Southern Ocean microbial communities. Frontiers in Microbiology 15;9:3226.

Guggisberg A, Liu X, Suter L, Mansion G, Fischer MC, Fior S, Roumet M, Kretzschmar R, Koch MA, Widmer A (2018) The genomic basis of adaptation to calcareous and siliceous soils in Arabidopsis lyrata. Molecular Ecology 27(24):5088-103.

Suter L, Rüegg M, Zemp N, Hennig L and Widmer A (2014) Gene regulatory variation mediates flowering responses to vernalization along an altitudinal gradient in Arabidopsis. Plant Physiology 166(4):1928-1942

Rahmé J, Suter L, Widmer A, Karrenberg S (2014) Inheritance and reproductive consequences of floral anthocyanin deficiency in Silene dioica (Caryophyllaceae). American Journal of Botany 101(8):1388-92.

Suter L and Widmer A (2013) Environmental heat and salt stress induce transgenerational phenotypic changes in Arabidopsis thaliana. PloS One, 8(4): e60364

Suter L and Widmer A (2013) Phenotypic effects of salt and heat stress over three generations in Arabidopsis thaliana. PloS One, 8(11): e80819

Macaya-Sanz D, Suter L, Joseph J, Barbara T, Alba N, Gonzalez-Martinez SC, Widmer A, Lexer C (2011) Genetic analysis of post-mating reproductive barriers in hybridizing European Populus species. Heredity 107(5): 478-486

De Carvalho D, Ingvarsson PK, Joseph J, Suter L, Sedivy C, Macaya-Sanz D, Cottrell J, Heinze B, Schanzer I, Lexer C (2010) Admixture facilitates adaptation from standing variation in the European aspen (Populus tremula L.), a widespread forest tree. Molecular Ecology 19(8): 1638-1650

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