Our People

Senior Lecturer
Dr. Mat Goddard

The strand that underlies my work to date is a fascination with the causes and consequences of natural selection.

As a child I remember walking through woods in the UK and being fascinated by the diversity of plants, insects and birds, and how these all interacted and seemingly depended on one another. I took a Marine Biology with Applied Zoology undergraduate degree (at the University of North Wales in the UK) – this was a integrative whole organism based degree with a heavy ecological focus. It was in the second year that I properly encountered the subject of evolutionary biology — I distinctly remember reading Richard Dawkins ‘The Selfish Gene’. The attraction of evolution for me was a system of thinking that put the diverse array of facts and observations concerning the natural world into perspective – a system that made sense of the natural world. I then moved onto research at the University of Leicester (UK) looking at the genetics of Tuberculosis, and it was here that I was introduced to, and learnt the foundations of, microbiology and molecular biology. After this I was fortunate to work toward a PhD under the guidance of Prof Austin Burt at Imperial College. The work examined the ecology and evolution of selfish genes. From here I gained a post-doctoral position at the NERC Centre for Population Biology, also based at Imperial College, initially under Prof John Lawton, and then Prof Charles Godfray, where I used yeast as model systems to conduct experimental evolution to test ideas about the maintenance of sex. From here I moved to my Faculty position at the University of Auckland.

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School of Biological Sciences Webpage

Laboratory Manager and Teaching Technician
Catrin Guenther

In the context of cross species interaction, my research interests are focused around molecular aspects of communication. I am a plant biochemist by trade and my studies ventured from legume-rhizobia symbiosis (MSc equiv. at the Max-Planck Insitute for Molecular Plant Physiology in Potsdam, Germany) to flavour-related volatiles in kiwi fruit (PhD in Chemistry, Plant and Food Research and University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand).

At no point I expected finding final answers doing research but stimulation to raise ever new questions. This, has not only led to an exciting journey across disciplines and countries but also across organisms. Yeast is a great model for exploring the origin of cellular life, diversity and of course chemical interaction.

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Research Technician
Soon Lee

I have always been curious about ‘how stuff works’, a curiosity that led me to study Science at University. Since graduating, I have spent time working in a number of research labs before returning to the School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland.

In Richard Gardner’s lab I spent some years working on yeast genes important for winemaking and wine flavour (specifically the varietal thiols in Sauvignon Blanc) and more recently, on breeding improved Saccharomyces cerevisiae strains for winemaking.

Since joining the Goddard lab in 2010, I have been involved in conducting & supporting the research efforts of the lab as part of the Sauvignon Blanc Research Programme. In 2011, much effort was devoted to a rigorous sampling of the yeasts associated with Sauvignon Blanc vineyards around New Zealand.

Currently, my main projects are:

1. The fit between yeast and juice (examining if S. cerevisiae exhibit strain differences in their preferences for nutrient sources during fermentation, and if so, might this be used to improve yeast selection for winemaking).

2. The adaptation of yeasts to ferment conditions (testing if fitness of S. cerevisiae can be improved to ensure successful completion of winemaking ferments).

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Postdoctoral Researchers
Claudia Buser

Started 3/2012

Fundamental to evolutionary and ecological biology is revealing how an organism interacts with others and the environment within which it lives. To optimize their fitness, populations of organisms must adapt to interacting species, as well as to their niche and/or to a changing environment. There are various types of species interactions (e.g. mutualisms, parasitism), all of which can result in continuous coevolutionary changes. My research is deticating on how environmental conditions/ecosystem engineering can affect coevolution, as well as the costs and rate of evolution of species in response to environmental changes.

For my Masters thesis (conducted at the Zoological Museum of the University of Zürich, Switzerland), I worked on questions related to male-female antagonistic coevolution. I tested how different environmental conditions influenced Scathophaga stercoraria (yellow dung fly) female oviposition strategies and sperm selection, and the downstream influence of these behaviours on female fitness. My Ph.D. thesis (conducted at Eawag and ETH in Switzerland) addressed questions related to host-parasite coevolution in variable environmental conditions. To study questions on how hosts and parasites co-adapt to chemical pollution and the fitness consequences for both species I have used several Daphnia (water flea) species and their endoparasites, as well as the pesticide diazinon as a model system.

In my post-doctoral research here at Auckland University I am expanding the theoretical underpinnings on coevolution by further developing and testing the hypothesis of niche engineering. I am focusing whether a species can manipulate the environment for its benefit, and thereby cause other species to coevolve and increase their fitness. More specific, I am testing, if volatiles produced by fermenting Saccharomyces (wine/baker’s) yeasts attract Drosophila (fruit flies), and that this attraction benefits yeasts as flies.

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PhD Students
Velimir Gayevskiy

Started 10/2011

Through my undergraduate studies at the University of Auckland I focussed on ecology, conservation, environmental science and microbiology. I then decided to do a PGDipSci in Wine Science where I became interested in the microbial aspect of winemaking and met Mat. This lead into a Masters in the Goddard lab in 2010 on the biogeography of wine yeasts in New Zealand. This topic taught me valuable skills in microbiology and molecular genetics which I found fascinating. During this time, being quite geeky, I also became intensely interested in bioinformatics. After completing my Masters I decided to pursue a PhD related to bioinformatics to immerse myself in the field. It just so happened that Mat was also interested in expanding the laboratory skill set with regard to next-generation sequencing, genomics and phylogenetics.

My PhD topic is on the diversity, origins and ancestry of Saccharomyces cerevisiae in New Zealand and worldwide. I am approaching this topic from a phylogenomics perspective by whole-genome sequencing a number of unique New Zealand isolates of this species and analyzing the resulting data to answer broad questions on how this species came to be in New Zealand.

My research interests strongly lie with the data analysis side of biology and I am interested in pursuing a career in bioinformatics/biotechnology. Feel free to contact me with opportunities which would help me grow my skill set in this area.

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Sarah Knight

Started 11/2010

For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated with the natural world and the organisms inhabiting it. I began my studies at the University of Auckland as an undergraduate with a keen interest in conservation biology and ecology. This quickly grew to include population and evolutionary genetics which are now a large focus of my research. As part of my Masters research I tested hypotheses of the evolutionary relationships within an order of the Bryozoa (Cheilostomata) that were based on morphological evidence. By using DNA sequence data and phylogenetic reconstructions and topology testing I was able to provide evidence to support a number of these hypotheses. This solidified my passion for using genetics as a tool in population and evolutionary studies. I am now completing my PhD in the Goddard lab focusing on the fermenting yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It has recently been shown that New Zealand has a genetically distinct population of S. cerevisiae and this research aims to describe and explain its population structure and determine if some of these New Zealand isolates can provide unique and desirable characteristics for winemaking.

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Peter Morrison-Wittle

Started 11/2010

I received my BSc, PgDipSci and MSc from the University of Auckland majoring in Biological sciences. I joined the Goddard group in 2010 to pursue research of community biogeography and ecology of non-Saccharomyces yeast associated with vineyards and native areas in New Zealand.

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Masters Students
Zachary Ardern

Started 12/2012

I received my BSc/BA conjoint degrees from the University of Auckland, majoring in biology, philosophy and economics, followed by a PGDipSci in 2012. My studies in science have focussed on molecular biology and on the side I have delved into the metaphysical implications. A related question concerns how the molecular events underlying adaptation are linked to larger evolutionary patterns such as convergence in organismal form. I’ve been inspired by the work of researchers such as Simon Conway-Morris who have explored the relations between biological trends, philosophy, and theology.

My MSc project in the Goddard lab involves bioinformatic analysis of a previous experimental evolution project using the yeast S. cerevisiae. I am applying next generation sequencing of population genomes to discover adaptations which occurred in sexual and asexual strains, and the molecular differences correlated with changes in meiotic recombination and gene-flow between environments. This should contribute to wider debates about the role of sex and migration in the adaptation of eukaryotes to complex environments.

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Summer Students

None at present

Former Lab Members

PhD Students

Sushma Prakash
Nicole Anfang
Jeremy Gray

Masters Students

Ophir Karon
Paulina Giraldo-Perez
Beth Anderson
Velimir Gayevskiy
Loida Palanca
Amali Thrimawithana
Philipp Pfunder
Evelyn Lau
Aurelie Saintignan
Omri Yahel
Casey Jun

BTech Students

Jessica Rodrigues
Daniel Than

Summer Students

Alistair Kendrick
Henry de Malmanche
Aaron Skelton
Kelsey Serjeant