Recognition for genomic scientists' work in COVID response

17 June, 2021

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Dragonfly has a long-standing association with Genomics for Aotearoa New Zealand (GFANZ) and last week hosted a celebration for four inaugural fellows.

The new fellows were Una Ren, Siouxsie Wiles, Jenny Draper and Joep de Ligt. Joep was present from Auckland virtually and Jenny had been recognised at a ceremony in Palmerston North earlier in the week.

The new fellows have all used their expertise in science – and genomics in particular – to help New Zealand chart a course through the COVID-19 pandemic.

GFANZ president Rob Elshire says, “Many of us work in genomic science but sometimes things happen that enable people to shine and do amazing stuff. I can’t imagine a better time to recognise those people.”

ESR’s COVID-19 genome sequencing and international data sharing has been instrumental in New Zealand’s COVID response. Una and Joep work at ESR, and Jenny also worked there before moving to Sydney in 2019. Their contributions to improving the IT infrastructure and setting up protocols made the COVID work possible. Siouxsie is based at the University of Auckland and has presented timely and sensible information for the public throughout the pandemic.

“Going ‘above and beyond’ characterises the contributions all these people have made. I can’t overstate the wonderful things they have done and how grateful we are for them.”

Besides lifetime membership of GFANZ (which Rob says is “pretty cool”), each person was presented with a taonga to wear. According to GFANZ council member Lisa Warbrick, pounamu was chosen as it has all sorts of beautiful, amazing wairua attached to it. “Our focus on genomics is represented with a carved double helix on the taonga – that was a first for my master carver!”

GFANZ has several objectives including to promote, research, develop and apply genomics for the benefit of all society, and to promote and support te ao Māori and the Treaty of Waitangi as innate to New Zealand genomics. Finlay Thompson is currently their secretary.

Read more about Rob and the Dragonfly connection.