1- Molecular systematics and phylogenetic relationships of cetacean helminths
My main research interest is the study of biological diversity in an evolutionary context. Among helminths, morphological variation can lead to incorrect species determination in the absence of molecular data. I use high-throughput sequencing technologies to resolve phylogenies, understand helminth diversification and determine evolutionary relationships with their hosts. Specifically, I am identifying variable regions within the helminth mitochondrial genome to prospect for and delimit helminth taxa, whilst at the same time developing markers for phylogenetics and population genetics.
2 – Effective parasite sampling from stranded cetaceans
Access to cetacean helminths arises primarily from coordinated cetacean stranding programmes that involve necropsies. Building collaborative research between veterinarians and biologists assisting cetacean strandings and necropsies is of paramount importance to secure parasites for further molecular and morphological studies. Curation and proper species identification is essential to secure accurate inferences from molecular data. I am currently building a cetacean helminths molecular database with reference markers for diagnostics and phylogenies.
3 – Unlocking genetic material from natural history collections
Museum collections are a valuable resource for studying cetacean parasites. Much of these material are unique, and impossible to re-collect. Also, traditional fixatives (like formaldehyde) cause DNA degradation, nucleotide substitutions and cross-links, making the specimens inaccessible for genetic studies using traditional PCR-based molecular methods. Recent advances in high-throughput sequencing technologies have opened up new possibilities to access genetic data from such collections. I am moving forward to invoke molecular techniques for aDNA in order to unlock molecules for museum specimens.
4 – Characterise helminth communities in cetaceans through non-invasive sampling
Non-invasive sampling is becoming increasingly common for parasitic surveillance. I am using a metabarcoding approach to screen cetacean faeces to characterise the parasite community. With this methodology I am developing a genomic and bioinformatic toolkit for helminth diagnosis, whilst gaining a greater understanding of the interactions between environment, helminths and host.
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Systematic Research Fund (SRF)
Assessing the systematic relationships of the Brachycladiidae using new molecular data