Growing up in South Africa, I developed a passion for nature at an early age, instilled by monthly visits to my grandfather’s smallholding in the wilds of the Magaliesberg mountain range.
Dreams of pursuing a career in zoology or marine biology at the University of Cape Town (UCT) were rapidly supplanted by my desire to gain a deep understanding of the underlying mechanisms of life using the tools of molecular biology.
To this end, after obtaining my PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, I proceeded to apply my expertise to a diversity of topics that interested me.
I’ve investigated the evolution of echolocation in bats and delineated cryptic species in bats, frogs, and cecidomyiid flies using phylogenetic approaches combined with molecular biological techniques.
In 2005 I moved to the US to take up a postdoc position in cancer biology at Yale Medical school. There I used a wide variety of methods from real-time PCR to microarrays to understand the molecular basis of neuroendocrine cancer evolution from non-cancerous neuroendocrine cells.
While this research was fascinating, I missed the abundance of nature and space that I had taken for granted in South Africa.
In 2007, I therefore moved to Oregon to take up a postdoc with Dr Joe Thornton at the University of Oregon, fulfilling my desire to dig even deeper into the mechanisms underlying the amazing diversity of life on this planet while at the same time satisfying my yearning for untrammeled nature.
In the Thornton lab, I employed molecular phylogenetics, ancestral reconstruction and resurrection, and cell-based hormone-receptor signaling assays to investigate the evolution of the steroid hormone receptor family.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed my years spent engaging in “blue-sky research”, I increasingly felt the need to engage in translational research with real-life implications for the world we live in. To this end, I joined the laboratory of Dr Josh Snodgrass in 2014.
Here, I develop and validate assays to measure various health and aging-related biomarkers (various health-related protein markers, telomere length) in dried spots and saliva as part of the World Health Organization’s Study on global AGEing and adult health (SAGE), a large-scale, longitudinal study established to monitor health trends and their determinants in aging populations.
In addition, I’m working with PIs Nelson Ting and Kirstin Sterner and their graduate student, Noah Simons, to evaluate the effects of cis-regulatory variation on immune gene expression in red colobus monkeys using RNA-seq and cell line models to gain insight into the mechanisms underlying host-pathogen disease associations.
In my spare time I am an enthusiastic homesteader on several acres in the Oregon countryside where I live with my husband and a menagerie that includes goats, chickens, bees, dogs, and cats.