My name is Jessie Prebble and I am the current (2009) recipient of the Te Papa MSc Scholarship in Molecular Systematics. I’m studying at Victoria University, looking at the evolution of the plant genus Wahlenbergia in New Zealand and Australia. I’m using various molecular techniques to try to determine how reliable the current taxonomy of the New Zealand species is, and whether I can infer how many times the genus invaded New Zealand, where from, and when.
I love my research. I spent last summer exploring the country collecting specimens in beautiful locations from the Garvie Mountains in Southland to Muriwai Beach north of Auckland. I even got to head over to New South Wales to hunt down some of the Australian species. I then spent a few weeks mounting and processing all of my collections, and now they’re stored in the Te Papa Herbarium.
Currently I’m dividing my time between the lab, where I extract and sequence short fragments of my specimens’ DNA, and the computer lab, where I puzzle my head over numerous types of data files. I have selected three regions to sequence, two from the chloroplast (trnL-F and trnK-psbA) and one nuclear ribosomal region (ITS). I explore my sequence data by forming alignments of the sequences, then creating phylogenetic trees to tease out the relationships between the species.
Results are starting to trickle in, and so far I can tell that all of the New Zealand species are very closely related, which most likely points to recent and rapid evolution here. Further results to follow…