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New director for Allan Wilson Centre

Wednesday, February 29, 2012
New director for Allan Wilson Centre

Massey University Vice-Chancellor Steve Maharey announced today that Professor Hamish Spencer, from the University of Otago, is to be the next director of the Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution.

The centre is a national centre of research excellence hosted at Massey. It involves 100 researchers at seven institutions advancing knowledge of the evolution and ecology of New Zealand and Pacific plant and animal life, and human history in the Pacific. The centre is named after Professor Allan Wilson (1934-91), whose Out of Africa hypothesis – that all human beings share a common female ancestor only 10,000 generations ago – changed scientific understanding. Partner organisations are Landcare Research, Plant and Food Research, the University of Auckland, the University of Canterbury, the University of Otago and Victoria University of Wellington.

Professor Spencer is an evolutionary biologist and has been an investigator in the Allan Wilson Centre since it was founded in 2002. He will replace current director Professor Charles Daugherty of Victoria University in August.

Mr Maharey says Professor Spencer brings an international research reputation to his leadership of the centre. "He has the vision and leadership to ensure that the centre continues its world-leading research, using leading genomic and biomathematics tools to understand the evolutionary history of plants, animals and humans in New Zealand and the Pacific. I warmly welcome this appointment.”

Centre governance board chairman Jim McLean says: “Professor Spencer is not only a fine researcher, but he also brings the capacity to make sure the centre’s research provides tangible benefits to New Zealand, supporting biodiversity management, improving environmental health, and understanding the history of humans in New Zealand.”

Professor Spencer studied at the University of Auckland and received his doctorate from Harvard University in 1988. He has a wide range of research interests, having recently published on topics as diverse as the laws and attitudes surrounding first-cousin marriage, origins of human health and disease, mathematical models of natural selection and the evolution of the Galápagos Cormorant. He is best known for his work on an unusual aspect of mammalian genetics known as genomic imprinting, in which the expression of a gene in an individual differs according to whether it was passed on from the mother or the father. He is a principal investigator in a second centre of research excellence, the National Research Centre for Growth and Development. He holds an appointment as an honorary academic at the University of Auckland's Liggins Institute and the current David Parkin Visiting Professor at the University of Bath, England. In 2009 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand.


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