Dr Leonie Suter, BSc, MSc, PhD
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!
- #4556: Shaping the future use of environmental DNA (eDNA) in Southern Ocean ecosystem monitoring