Scholarship will help geneticist's research

Julia Horsfield
Julia Horsfield
A Fulbright scholarship will help University of Otago scientist Associate Prof Julia Horsfield learn about powerful new techniques which could revolutionise our understanding of cancer and some development disorders.

"It's like if you've ever looked at the night sky with binoculars, and you get a new telescope and suddenly you can see the rings of Saturn," Prof Horsfield said.

"It's going to make a big difference."

Prof Horsfield is a developmental geneticist in the Otago pathology department, and directs both Genetics Otago and the Otago Zebrafish Facility.

When she was studying some developmental conditions, she was looking at "averaged" information often drawn from about 10,000 cells, she said in an interview.

Her research trip to the United States, which starts in December, will enable her to learn more about single cell sequencing technology, through which DNA and RNA can be sequenced from one cell isolated in a droplet.

This approach delivered "much more precision' , enabling careful study of key cells which could be overlooked in a much bigger multi-cell study.

"It's definitely the way to go.

"It's just what's great about having this award."

She was recently named as one of six academics from universities and research institutions throughout the country to receive a 2019 New Zealand Scholar Award, allowing them to travel to the US to undertake research.

Prof Horsfield was excited and honoured to win the scholarship.

She leads a research group investigating the role of chromosome structure in animal development and cancer, and will travel to University of California campuses Davis and Irvine.

"I will be using single-cell sequencing to research how cell fate decisions are controlled in the zebrafish animal model," she said.

"My colleagues in the USA are applying some exciting techniques to understand how animals develop from just a few cells to a complete body plan."

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