In touch with… Elizabeth Dinsdale

Professor Elizabeth Dinsdale joined Flinders recently to establish the Flinders Accelerator for Microbiome Exploration with co-Director Professor Robert Edwards, which is being created to advance microbiome and metagenome studies across the University and South Australia.

What is your role at Flinders and what does your current research focus on?

I am the Matthew Flinders Fellow in Marine Biology, a Professor’s position that will focus on marine microbial and viral ecology. My research will use next generation DNA sequencing to explore the way microbiomes and viromes develop and are maintained on various hosts.

The complexity of the microbial community and its interactions with the host means we need to model both microbes and macrobes together to understand changes to their health. Marine organisms, such as sharks and corals, make interesting subjects for developing models and these models can then be used in other environments, such as human health.

I want to understand how microbial-host interactions evolved and I am using the oldest extant vertebrate clade, the sharks. Everything about sharks is interesting, they have remained virtually unchanged forever, they have strange osmoregulation, unusual reproduction, they are scary and covered in teeth, which may reduce microbial communities. We need to keep them around to learn about how they work.

Can you describe the journey that took you to this point in your career?

I love the marine environment and I finally have a job title with marine biologist in it! I started working on coral reefs and wanted to understand why corals disease cases were increasing across the world. To do this, you need to understand the microbial community and that took me on a journey to the central Pacific and into the microbial genome.

I had non-molecular training in university, so switching to metagenomics was a huge step, but shows that you can transition to different areas of research, and often these interdisciplinary mixtures accelerate understanding. By mixing my ecology with my collaborators’ molecular knowledge, we published a nature paper that has been cited about 1,000 times.

Can you describe a challenge in your life and how you dealt with it?

Women in science have to work hard to get anywhere. We need to keep working with people to remove implicit biases that occur in the workplace, and increase the diversity of scientists.

What is something you are proud of?

I am proud of the success of my students. I have had the pleasure to work with some extremely nice and smart students. Our research together has enabled them to obtain research positions in some of the top universities in the world including Stanford University, or they have followed careers into the biotechnology industry producing new sequencing technology or using metagenomics to identify new mineral deposits or provide biological remediation strategies.

I am looking forward to working with students at Flinders and accelerating their careers.

What does a normal day look like for you?

I have just spent five months ordered to stay home in San Diego, California, and 28 days in quarantine in Australia! I think I have forgotten what a normal day looks like. But I am thankful that I, and my friends and students in the USA, have not contracted COVID-19 and that the strict quarantining in Australia has meant I have not introduced coronavirus into Australia either.

In normal circumstances, I spend a large part of my days mentoring students on their research projects, analysing massive amounts of data – including 380 million sequences from my last trip – and a small amount of time organising and conducting field research. Being in the marine environment means you see and learn something new all the time from nature. I am looking forward to exploring areas around Australia, as our preliminary data suggests that they contain microbes that have not been described previously.

How do you like to relax or spend your spare time?

I have two beautiful and successful daughters and five fantastic grandchildren that live in various locations in Australia and I am looking forward to exploring Australia with them. When not spending time with my family and working, I enjoy competitive rowing and hope to race in the South Australian Masters women’s eight!

Posted in