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Bioinformatics Institute

Alumni profiles

Learn more about why current and past students of the School of Biological Sciences chose to study with us, and what their hopes for the future are.

Nooriyah Poonawala, MSc in Bioinformatics

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It is an exciting time to be a bioinformatician; the advancement of genomic technologies is producing a wave of genomic data. My main interest is in the bioinformatics of disease, and the increasing volume of genomic data can now be used to draw important conclusions and improve outcomes of the diagnosis and treatment of complex genomic diseases, such as cancer.

My Masters research involved combining multi-modal genomic and clinical data for colon adenocarcinoma in a MySQL framework and create a webpage to help end users (mainly cancer clinicians and clinical cancer researchers) to view and compare different aspects of the data. The user can add their own data to the existing dataset and view where their patient sits in comparison to an entire dataset (group of patients with the same condition). Similar frameworks can be created for different types of cancer and hence is not limited to one cancer type. Although this framework still needs some work to be done on it before it can be used by clinicians, I believe it shows us a glimpse of what the future of personalised medicine holds.

I am currently a bioinformatics intern for a cancer diagnostics company based in Dunedin.

I am very eager to see and be a part of the change that genomics and bioinformatics will bring to the field of medicine.

Amali Thrimawithana, MSc in Bioinformatics

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The ability to apply computer science and statistics to understand and explore biological processes in greater detail in the fields of genomics, evolution and conservation attracted me to Bioinformatics. I earned both my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at the University of Auckland, with summer studentships and postgraduate projects being undertaken at the Bioinformatics Institute. These projects allowed me to gain firsthand experience of being a Bioinformatician in training. During these projects I was able to work alongside some inspirational lecturers and great colleagues, where the working environment was very enjoyable. The experiences I gained from these have opened up a wide range of future career prospects for me, with my first ‘take’ on the real world bioinformatics being at The New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research Limited (PFR). 

I am currently a Research Technologist at PFR. Over the few years of being at PFR, I have been involved in a number of exciting projects that have required me to carry out a variety of tasks, including genome and transcriptome assemblies, comparative genomics, genome annotations and differential expression studies. Some of the projects with which I am involved include light brown apple moth, New Zealand leafrollers, European pears and kiwifruit.


Jess Hayward, PhD in Biological Sciences

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I earned my PhD in Biological Sciences at The University of Auckland Bioinformatics Institute in 2009. My research was on the molecular evolution of Feline Immunodeficiency Virus in New Zealand’s pet and feral cats, under the supervision of Professor Allen Rodrigo.

I am currently a Research Associate at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, having made the switch from felines to canines (and the journey from Auckland, NZ to Ithaca, New York). My research focus is canine genetics and genomics, specifically using genome-wide association studies to identify underlying causal variants for complex phenotypes of interest in dogs (such as body size). My work involves a mixture of computational and wet lab work, and even some field work – for example, taking saliva samples from village dogs on a recent trip to Nepal (pictured).