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Fish scientist receives early career honour

18 October 2018

Dr Maren Wellenreuther, a senior scientist at Plant & Food Research, has won this year’s Hamilton Award, the Royal Society Te Apārangi Early Career Research Excellence Award for Science.

Dr Wellenreuther, based at the Nelson Research Centre, leads a programme to develop new genomics technologies to breed native marine species in captivity. This research programme builds on Plant & Food Research’s experience with plant crops to breed fish with target characteristics best suited to support wild fish stocks or for aquaculture.

Dr Wellenreuther completed her Bachelor and Master’s degrees in her home country Germany before gaining her PhD from the University of Auckland. Prior to joining Plant & Food Research in 2014, she was a postdoctoral researcher and academic at Lund University in Sweden.

She is the lead researcher on a MBIE-funded project that is investigating the use of genomic technologies in the selective breeding of native fish, primarily snapper and trevally. The research uses populations of domesticated indigenous finfish species to identify genes controlling traits of interest, such as enhanced growth rates and improved disease resistance. Molecular markers are used to identify parents and screen offspring in the breeding programme. Offspring with target traits will then be trialled under commercial conditions to assess the aquaculture potential of the species

“I am incredibly honoured to receive this award,” says Dr Wellenreuther. “This award is an acknowledgement of the importance of seafood to New Zealand, from both an export and a cultural perspective, and how science can be applied in new ways to support the food sector. Targeted breeding of fish uses breeding and genomics skills that New Zealand is renowned for, albeit primarily in the horticulture industry, to support high quality exports of seafood and ensuring the viability of both wild and aquaculture fisheries.”

The Hamilton Award is awarded annually by the Royal Society Te Apārangi for the encouragement of early-career researchers for scientific research in New Zealand. Dr Wellenreuther received her award at the Royal Society Research Honours ceremony, held at Te Papa Tongarewa on 17 October.


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