'I am using new techniques, new software, which undoubtedly will help me in my future career...'
Studying towards a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology
Laboratory Demonstrator, UC
With a passion for genetics and microorganisms built up through years of study, Ayelen wanted to continue to ‘contribute to our society’ with her experience in the sciences.
Ayelen is originally from Argentina, and later moved to New Zealand before deciding to return to study.
‘I always wanted to do a PhD, in order to gain more knowledge and experience in science. When I came to live in Christchurch, I fell in love with the city, so I decided that UC was the best option to achieve my goals,’ she says.
‘I enjoy the multi-cultural and dynamic environment that UC has, allowing people from overseas, like me, to feel content, happy and comfortable. Also, the awesome staff that UC has in order to support all the students, from undergraduate to postgraduate, making us feel at home.’
Ayelen’s research investigates fungi and oomycetes, and the role played by their cytoskeleton components when they become invasive. Both pose a large threat to the economy, with oomycetes affecting plants (such as the iconic New Zealand Kauri tree with the dieback disease) and fungi affecting the health of humans, animals and plants with infections.
‘I am using genetically modified strains that have fluorescent microtubules and microfilaments, that allow me to study these using confocal microscopy. I am combining these techniques with Lab-on-a-Chip technology. We have designed Nano-chips containing channels and pillars, that enable us, using special software, to measure protrusive force generated by these microorganisms, which is important for them to invade a host tissue.’
The project is rewarding work, and is helped along with motivation and support from her supervisory team, as one of her favourite aspects of studying at UC.
‘I am fascinated by this challenging project, which is a fusion of two different disciplines, engineering and biology. I am using new techniques, new software, different point of views, which undoubtedly will help me in my future career,’ she says.
Her PhD has received funding support from the Biomolecular Interaction Centre, and the project has also earned support with Marsden Fund and Brian Mason Fund awards.
Ayelen has also been able to travel to conferences presenting her findings with various travel awards, including the 19th Miniaturized Systems for Chemistry and Life Sciences conference in Korea, and NZMS “Microbial Communities and Us” in Rotorua, and will later be attending the 20th MicroTAS conference in Ireland.
After some wonderful years spent here, Ayelen looks forward to many more in New Zealand after graduation.
‘I am hoping to find a job, once I finish my PhD, in New Zealand, this wonderful place with lovely and friendly people, with marvellous places to visit and to enjoy many outdoor activities like tramping, which I love; this safe and quiet paradise that I have adopted as my home country.’