2018 Research Opportunities

Ecuador: Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Cumbayá, Ecuador

Project Title: Detecting tick borne diseases in Ecuador

Project Description: Ticks are important vectors of a variety of pathogens affecting livestock, domestic animals, and humans. Some of these are of important concerns for human and animal health due to their recent discovery, emergence or expansion in their range. The main aim of this study is to collect ticks from domestic animals in Ecuador and detect pathogens that are potentially zoonotic. Students will collect ticks from cattle and will learn to use molecular techniques to detect the presence of numerous tick-borne pathogens. Ecuador has a variety of diseases that present as a generalized febrile illness. However, very little is known concerning the distribution of tick-borne disease in Ecuador, and positive test results will be important to alert the health authorities about the circulation of the disease in the country.

Philippines I: International Rice Research Institute, Los Baños, Philippines

Project Title: Amphibians as bioindicators for farmer health in the Philippines

Project Description: Rice agricultural supports food security for much of the world, and agricultural workers are often from underserved and/or minority populations.  These workers are exposed to agricultural chemicals that may impact their health.  Amphibians can provide several ecosystem services that can help identify and potentially help reduce these health disparities.  For example, amphibian development is a model for exposure to chemicals that disrupt both thyroid and gonadal function.  Furthermore, amphibians provide ecosystem services, such as rice pest control and human insect vector reduction which could reduce the need for chemical pest control.  Last, amphibians are a source of food for rural agricultural workers and may also provide economic support as a food supply.  This project will determine whether ecosystem service provided by amphibians may ultimately help reduce health disparities associated with pesticide use.

Philippines II: International Rice Research Institute, Los Baños, Philippines

Project Title: Physiology of drought tolerance in rice

Project Description: Rice is grown in many different types of environments, including in drought-prone areas in Asia, Africa, and South America. Identification of new plant traits that play a role in drought response could contribute to the development of new rice varieties with higher yield under drought. For this experiment, we will focus on trichomes, or leaf hairs, to investigate if this trait affects rice leaf water loss under drought stress. We will grow rice genotypes with and without trichomes in field experiments under drought and well-watered conditions. Physiological measurements including stomatal conductance and leaf water potential will be conducted.

Philippines III: International Rice Research Institute, Los Baños, Philippines

Project Title: Exploiting the rice microbiome to reduce the effect of abiotic stresses

Project Description: The microorganisms that live in association with plants (the plant microbiome) can have a strong positive effect on plant growth and reproduction. However, many studies of the plant microbiome evaluate the diversity of microorganisms without understandingthe mechanism behind the relationship with plant fitness. Our work focuses on linking microbiome community structure to plant performance in one of the most important crop plant species in the world, rice.  As a first approach the student will use molecular biology and microbiological techniques to examine the dynamics of the microbiome in rice grown under different abiotic stress conditions commonly encountered in rice agriculture. At the end of the project the student will be able to suggest which microbes are most beneficial to rice growth under stressful conditions.

New Zealand I: University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

Project Title: Effects of high intensity exercise on cardiac autonomic dysfunction in diabetic patients

Project Description: Current exercise recommendations do not improve cardiovascular morbidity in diabetic populations.  This study will examine whether higher intensity exercise has a greater cardiovascular benefit than current recommendations.  These studies are longitudinal interventional protocols that are presently underway.  Clinical testing will occur at the physiology lab in the department of Medicine on the 9th floor of Dunedin hospital and the cardiology ward on the 7th floor.  This will involve a range of investigations including cardiac echocardiography, exercise ECG (Bruce protocol), drug infusion studies, VO2max testing, blood sampling, DEXA scanning, autonomic and baroreceptor testing and patient recruitment on the ward.

New Zealand II: University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

Project Title: Nitric oxide as a mediator of adrenergic stress in the heart

Project Description: Nitric oxide is known to alter cardiac function in a variety of ways, particularly in the context of alpha and beta adrenergic signalling.  These events are closely tied to heart failure and arrhythmia, particularly in the context of diabetes.  However, the underlying targets of nitric oxide are not fully understood, limiting our ability to target these pathways in the clinic. In this project, we will use unique mouse models with altered nitric oxide signalling pathways to determine the role of cardiac nitric oxide in alpha and beta adrenergic signalling. The project will combine cutting edge research tools with hands on training to give a holistic experience of modern laboratory work in the biomedical field.

New Zealand III: Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand 

Project Description: Processes of colonization have resulted in multiple inequities between settlers and Māori, the indigenous peoples of Aotearoa New Zealand. An important determinant of health is the land and the relationships between the health of the land and the health of the people. Māori have experienced loss of land and resources and Māori values and knowledge associated with land and water have been denigrated and marginalised in decision making. Along with many other indigenous peoples, Māori struggle to maintain or regain agency over their lands, with Treaty settlement processes seeing the return of some areas. The student will select an area of focus related to community driven initiatives that seek to heal people and land through the active leadership of local people. The wider research project is built around a number of research questions that frame the possible inquiries the placement student could be engaged in. They include:


 ·        What are the links between environmental integrity and the health, wellbeing and wealth of indigenous communities?

·         What evidence and actions in this domain are needed to improve Māori and national health?

·         What are the dimensions of an environment based experience that can be applied to promote Māori health and wellbeing?