Science students head for indigenous conference

22 December 2016

Science students head for indigenous conference

Two NorthTec science students have been awarded internships to attend a prestigious residential programme on indigenous genomics – the study of DNA.

Shannon Paikea and Marley Korach are two of only 16 students in New Zealand to be awarded the fully-funded summer internship positions, enabling them to attend the week-long programme on genetic engineering, held at the University of Auckland in January.

They were both accepted onto the Summer Internship for Indigenous Genomics (SING) – Aotearoa programme after being encouraged to apply by their NorthTec science tutor, Toni Daly.

This year both Shannon and Marley completed the level 5 National Diploma in Science (Technician), and are enrolled for the New Zealand Diploma in Applied Science (Level 6) in 2017.

Both Māori women aged in their 30s, they have returned to the laboratory to study applied science after careers in other fields. Marley worked in water reticulation, while Shannon’s career was in the social work field, specialising in budgetary advice.

They are both delighted and excited to have been accepted onto the SING Aotearoa programme. They are also keen to become part of a worldwide network of scientists specialising in genetic engineering, with the possibility of travelling to the USA for a further fully-funded internship.

Shannon, who wants to become a laboratory technician after completing her level 6 diploma, said: “It’s an awesome opportunity, to be one of only 16 people in New Zealand to get an internship. I think it’s going to be a blast!”

She said she chose to study at NorthTec because it offered the right qualification for her, and was close to home. She said: “I have found the class sizes awesome. You get to experience actually doing the experiments, not just watching someone else do it.”

Marley plans to continue studying to complete a degree in science. She said: “The science we are doing now is quite specialised, it’s something different every week. Studying genetic engineering is challenging but to me it’s the future, it’s everywhere.”

Tutor Toni Daly said it was important for Northland to have more people studying the sciences and medicine, and especially for more Māori to qualify in the subjects.

SING Aotearoa is an initiative associated with Te Waka o Tamarereti – a network of Māori with expertise across the fields of genomics, informatics technology, business and environmental stewardship.

The network is being developed as part of a Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund project, led by the universities of Auckland, Waikato and Otago. They are supported by the Māori Research Centre of Excellence – Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, and two National Science Challenges – Biological Heritage and Science for Technical Innovation.

The programme is open to Māori students wanting to better understand the opportunities and challenges associated with genomic research, as well as key technical, cultural and ethical issues.

Genomics is an area within genetics that concerns the sequencing and analysis of an organism's genome - the entire DNA content within one cell of an organism. Experts in genomics strive to determine complete DNA sequences and perform genetic mapping to help understand disease.

Studies of indigenous peoples are considered a crucial part of genomic research, not only to define the extent of human diversity but to provide medical benefit to all people.

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