Massey’s research in genetics and genomics seeks to understand how organisms adapt and interact with their environment and one another. We apply a range of genetic analyses including genomics, transcriptomics and proteomics, along with more traditional morphological, cytogenetic, and molecular approaches to understand how cells and organisms function.
Our researchers are using techniques from areas such as computer science, contemporary genomics and statistics to decipher large biological systems such as DNA, RNA and chromatin information, including modelling genome dynamics. One focus is establishing how genetic variation is distributed within and between individuals and determining how this diversity changes over evolutionary time.
Understanding the genome is central for studies ranging from disease and cancer to fundamental questions in evolution. By unravelling the information in genomes and why selection favours one genotype we are learning to unlock the secrets of life’s building blocks.
We work on the genetics of diversification, reverse evolution and rules of genetic evolution and evolutionary relationships among species.
Conservation and ecological genetics
Expertise in understanding the biological significance of genetic traits, their contribution to ecological performance and the regulatory networks that control their expression. We use population genetics (multi-locus markers, DNA sequence data, cytogenetics) to assess the conservation status, genetic diversity and evolutionary potential of populations.
Organisms can adapt to changes in the environment by altering their developmental programmes. Differences in gene function and expression provide the basis for adaptability, and understanding how these genes work may lead to improved characteristics, such as drought or stress resistance in plants.
Genetic disease in animals
Our work defines breeding objectives for animals, calculates economic values using farm models, examines the contribution of the major histocompatibility complex to disease resistance, and identifies mutations associated with inherited diseases in animals. We work to understand genetic mechanisms underlying production, reproduction and disease resistance. We also have expertise in control and prevention of livestock disease through recombinant DNA techniques.
Molecular and evolutionary ecology
Our research investigates the evolutionary and ecological processes that determine the structure and functioning of populations and communities. We use genetic/genomic tools in combination with environmental DNA sampling, field surveys, and experiments to address questions on population connectivity, local adaptation, trophic interactions, and the distribution of genetic diversity in natural populations and communities.
Plant evolutionary genetics, systematics and taxonomy
We are focused on understanding the distribution of genetic variation within and among groups of individual plants. We also work through quantitative genetics to elucidate the genetic basis of traits with continuous distributions. In plant science, these fields of study are utilised to several ends, including conservation biology, evolution, plant breeding, functional genetics and more. We also employ molecular genetic and genomics approaches to plant systematics and taxonomy.
Chromosome architecture constrains horizontal gene transfer in bacteria
Horizontal gene transfer is a powerful source of change in bacteria that can significantly aid their ability to survive. These rules are governed by architecture imparting sequences (AIMS), which are in all bacterial chromosomes. A team of international researchers including Massey’s Dr Heather Hendrickson discovered that if sets of AIMS are well matched between a donor and recipient genome, then the DNA moving between those genomes can be maintained. The opposite is true if they are not well matched, effectively establishing the rules of transfer.
Creating a better picture of human diversity
Professor Murray Cox received a $925,000 Marsden Grant in 2017 to look at creating a more representative picture of human diversity, with immediate downstream relevance to the history and health of Pacific peoples.
The research will focus on small traditional villages in eastern Indonesia to analyse and quantify how much DNA diversity has functional effects. This will provide evolutionary insight into the genome dynamics of traditional human populations within the kinds of small community networks where most human evolution historically occurred.
Effects of genetics on physical, mental and perceptual responses to caffeine supplementation
Caffeine has for several decades been shown to provide an ergogenic effect on exercise performance when taken in the correct dosage. However, the effect of caffeine on performance varies between individuals. The purpose of this study, by PhD candidate Kyle Southward, is to investigate the effects of caffeine intake and genotype on exercise performance, metabolism, immune function, mood and sleep in male recreational runners.
Fighting a dangerous disorder
The use of anaesthesia is regarded as one of the safest medical interventions, however, major complications—even death—can occur.
Tracing the course of a person’s reaction to anaesthesia is a complex problem. Professor Kathryn Stowell is leading the research on malignant hyperthermia (MH) – a genetic disorder that triggers a serious reaction to anaesthesia.
If MH-susceptibility can be determined prior to general anaesthesia, an alternative non-triggering and safe anaesthetic procedure is used, potentially mitigating severe complications and possibly death during routine surgeries.
Finding the Achilles’ heel of breast cancer
APOBEC3 proteins provide a key part of our defence against viral pathogens. They act by attacking single-stranded viral DNA (ssDNA) and destroy their genetic information by mutating the cytidines to uridines. For this defence to work, it is essential to distinguish between pathogen DNA and our own genetic information. How A3 proteins recognize specific ssDNA and specific pathogens, but neither double-stranded DNA nor RNA, remains unknown. The study aims to identify this recognition strategy and help develop a compound to mitigate this issue. The work is being done in collaboration with University of Minnesota.
Genetics of the Galapagos Mockingbird
Nothing is known about the genomic correlate or genetic mechanisms for inter-island diversification of Galapagos mockingbirds. Massey scientist Dr Luis Ortiz-Catedral worked with American scientists to investigate the genomic correlates of phenotypic diversification of this endangered bird.
High performance honey
Today’s mānuka honey industry is based on wild harvest. However, most of the economically accessible wild mānuka is already being harvested by beekeepers. Honey harvesters are turning to planting elite mānuka, but how does a landowner choose which variety to plant on their particular block?
A team from Massey University, led by Professor Richard Archer of Massey’s Riddet Institute, is contributing to the science, establishing a series of field trials to identify how combinations of genetics and environment influence mānuka establishment, growth, honey yield and quality across several potential commercial cultivars.
Humans may have twice as many functional genes
While some genes in our DNA control the colours of our eyes, hair and even our risk of disease, other genes have seemed to serve no apparent biological function. A study co-authored by Massey’s Dr Sebastian Schmeier produced a comprehensive collection (28,000) of long non-coding RNA molecules and summarised for the first time their expression pattern in the major human cell types and tissues. It found evidence of evolutionary selection and links with major diseases.
Animal Genetic Services
Massey University’s Equine Parentage and Animal Genetics Services Centre offers the most comprehensive range of DNA-based genetic testing for animals in New Zealand.
Manawatū Microscopy and Imaging Centre
The MMIC facility is available for use by organisations such as researchers, Crown Research Institutes, other teaching institutions, hospitals and commercial clients. We offer transmitted light and fluorescence microscopy, electron microscopy and image analysis and have a professional team of specialists to help you with your microscopy needs.
Massey Genome Service
Massey Genome Service provides DNA & RNA sequencing services to New Zealand researchers and students.
AL Rae Centre for Genetics and Breeding
The Centre ensures sustained development and application of knowledge in quantitative genetics and breeding to enhance the profitability of New Zealand's primary industries.