Meet the Scholars

Forrest Research Foundation Scholars

Read more about our scholars and their world-class research by clicking on their image.

Dulce Vargas Landin, Mexico

I am using genomic and epigenomic technologies to evaluate the impact of environmental stimuli and L1 (a "jumping" gene within our genome) mobilisation in the brain. These two mechanisms produce differences in the neural genomes during adult neurogenesis (process in which newborn neurons are generated). This diversity created in neurons could be involved in adult learning and memorising processes. However, these alterations in the neurons may also disturb neural functions that predispose or lead to brain injuries and neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders. Therefore, the characterisation of this heterogeneity within the neurons could give us a better understanding of adult brain function and dysfunction.

I have always been amazed by the diversity of biological organisms and how such variety can be encoded in DNA. It is for this reason I chose a biological career in Genomic Sciences. Then, I fell in love with transposons, which unlike genes they can mobilise within the genome. They comprise almost half of the sequences in the human genome and are involved in genome evolution, diseases, gene functions and more. During my Masters I worked with L1 transposons, which represent 17 per cent of the human genome and are the only active transposon elements in humans. For my PhD, I wanted something that involved my passion of genomics and L1 biology and I got one of the most amazing projects in this area: L1 mobilisation in human brains. This project is not only about my favourite things, but it is also about most complex organ we have – the brain.

My Forrest Research Foundation Scholarship gives me, as a student, stability that allows me to focus just on my research

The Forrest Scholarship has really enhanced my scientific career as I can participate in more conferences and events, giving me the opportunity to present my work to the world and to expand my network for future collaborations.

I think science communication is an essential element in research, and with the Forrest Scholarship I am in the best position to practise it. Moreover, the Forrest Research Foundation Scholarship gives me, as a student, stability that allows me to focus just on my research. This part is really important, as I have seen students neglecting their studies because of money issues.

Timothy Hammer, USA

I have always been interested the questions of how life evolved; for example what environmental and biological pressures have driven speciation and extinction. I have likewise thought that plants, which are some of the most diverse group of organisms and usually the most important organisms in their ecosystems, give us the best opportunity to explore such questions.

During my PhD, I will be studying Ptilotus (mulla mulla), which is a large, native group of plants that are well adapted to the arid regions of Australia. The main aims of my thesis are to establish a fully resolved evolutionary tree (phylogeny) of Ptilotus and its relatives using next generation sequencing, for use in subsequent analyses and to resolve the taxonomy of the group.

I will assess phosphorus metabolism in the group, which will elucidate how diversity may be a result of adaptation to low-nutrient soils by comparing the ability of species in relation to evolutionary history. I will conduct the first pollination study in the genus to test how pollinator-driven shifts may have spurred speciation and its incredible floral diversity.

The phylogeny will be used to conduct a biogeographical analysis for Ptilotus and its relatives to reveal the age and continent of origin of the group and to track the spatial and environmental changes over evolutionary time. Tying these topics together will be an ancestral niche reconstruction that will give insights into how environmental factors and climate change may have driven large and rapid diversification events seen in Ptilotus. It will also allow the assessment of the importance of environmental heterogeneity versus pollinator shifts driving adaptive radiations within this group and analogous arid Australian groups.

Western Australia in one of the most botanically interesting areas in the world

This scholarship allows me to do research in one of the best schools for plant biology, learn from great researchers in my field, and conduct research in Western Australia in one of the most botanically interesting areas in the world. These experiences will help to make me a better botanist and researcher.

Trung Viet Nguyen, Vietnam

I have always been inspired by the complexity of the molecular mechanism of how our human genome is regulated, and whether it is possible to learn from nature to design tools that turn genes on or off.

The epigenome is a molecular code superimposed upon the genome that controls how the genetic information is read without altering the underlying DNA sequence, allowing distinct sets of genes to be turned on or off in different cell types to achieve cellular specialisation.

DNA methylation is an essential epigenetic mechanism underlying gene regulation. However, it has not been possible to specifically manipulate DNA methylation at desired locations in the genome in order to control gene expression.

My research aims to develop innovative molecular tools based on recent advanced genome editing technology to manipulate DNA methylation and other epigenetic modifications at specific locations in the genome. These tools will advance our understanding of the epigenome, and may be used for basic research and clinical application to correct aberrant epigenetic patterns in disease states such as cancer.

This is a unique opportunity to train in one of the world’s laboratories at UWA

Research is a very time-consuming process and needs a lot of patience and dedication. The Forrest Scholarship has given me the invaluable mental and generous financial support, so I do not have to worry too much about the tuition fees and living expenses. As a result I can focus 100 per cent of my time on my research.

In addition, the Scholarship has given me a unique opportunity to train in one of the world’s laboratories at UWA in the field of epigenetics with opportunities to collaborate with leading experts.

Marisa Duong, Vietnam

Proteins are little machineries that carry out numerous functions for the cells in our body. In many diseases, our cells suffer from a state called “oxidative stress” where the protein structures and functions are changed, which worsens the disease symptoms. My research aims to develop a technique that could pinpoint which specific proteins change their structures under oxidative stress. That way, we could better understand what happen inside the disease cells, thereby helping with developing effective treatments.

I will be engaged in various research opportunities

I am an avid learner who loves researching, picking up new skills and gaining new knowledge as well as passing on my skills and knowledge. My passion for research grew stronger and stronger as I progressed through my undergraduate years, during which I was engaged in various research opportunities in parallel with the university coursework. In my Honours year, I felt energised every time I entered the laboratory to perform biochemistry experiments and enjoy the thrill of awaiting meaningful results. As I have realised there is simply so much we have not known and have learned to be comfortable with facing the unknown. I feel humbled and honoured to have been awarded a Forrest Scholarship and am even more determined to build up my career as an expert in my field.

Kit Prendergast, Australia

I’m embarking on an exciting and crucial project to discover what native bees inhabit urban areas in South West Western Australia and what factors enhance or limit their diversity and abundance.

I was born in Tasmania, lived in various states throughout Australia, and currently reside in Perth, WA. Throughout Australia, I never cease to wonder at the unique flora and fauna this great southern land boasts. I get a real ‘buzz’ about bees, biodiversity and biology in general. I possess a passion for all creatures great and small and have an insatiable curiosity to discover and research the natural world.

I am dedicated to preserving this rich biodiversity in Australia and across the globe, and seek to use science to better understand and conserve the biota we share this planet with, and communicate such insights gained so as to engage others to share my lifelong passion for the betterment of all living beings and the environments we share.
 My research project involves assessing native bee assemblages in urban habitat fragments in South West WA and investigating how the introduced European honeybee (Apis mellifera) interacts with these native pollinators.

Urbanisation is often considered to be at odds with biodiversity, yet Perth is situated in the middle of the South West Western Australia Florist Region, an internationally recognised biodiversity hotspot. Bees are a keystone species and their pollination services underpin healthy ecosystems, including those featuring native, horticultural and crop plants.
My project will identify not only what native pollinator occur in the places most people live, work and play, but also what factors can promote bees in the ’burbs. WA boasts an estimated 800 species of native bees whose diverse pollination services promote diverse plant communities to thrive in both our backyards and bushland reserves. My study also seeks to resolve the controversial question about whether the introduced European honeybee adversely affects native bees. WA is renowned internationally for its high-quality honey produced by honeybees, but there are concerns that this abundant non-native bee outcompetes the indigenous fauna. 

The Forrest Scholarship will enable me to realise the full potential of my project, and the generous financial assistance will provide invaluable stability and support. As a Forrest Scholar, I’m excited to embark on this project which will provide crucial information on how to preserve healthy, thriving pollinator communities in our backyards and bushlands in this biodiversity hotspot with applications across the globe.

I’m incredibly honoured to be selected as a Forrest Scholar and apply my intellect and passion to generate world-class science. It is undeniably a ‘bee-rilliant’ opportunity.

Frederik Seersholm, Denmark

I've always been split between a passion for history and archaeology on one hand and a profound interest in science on the other hand. As a kid, my interest in archaeology was sparked by my grandfather who took me on historic walks in the old city of Copenhagen, lecturing me about the history of the city from the Vikings through the Middle Ages.

Despite this long passion for archaeology, I decided to follow my interest in science after high school and enrolled in Molecular Biomedicine in Copenhagen. However, during my bachelor's degree, I found myself drifting away from biomedicine towards the field of ancient genetics where DNA sequencing is applied to analyse fossils from archaeological excavations.

In ancient genetics I have found the niche where I can combine my skills in molecular biology with my passion for archaeology. I am genuinely excited by the wealth of information that can be produced from tiny pieces of seemingly worthless bone fragments and I love that DNA sequencing allows me to look thousands of years back in time into a world that was very different from the world today.

In a time characterised by a global decline in biodiversity driven by human activities, it is essential to understand how biodiversity has changed historically both before and under human influence. Traditionally, the size and shape of animal bone remains from archaeological excavations have been studied to characterise the biodiversity of the past. Such analysis relies heavily on large, well-preserved bones and does not consider small or degraded fossils as they cannot be identified morphologically. This limits the reference material considerably as the vast majority of bones identified in such excavations are heavily fragmented.

My project aims to analyse changes in past biodiversity in WA and across the globe using genetic methods that enable us to identify animal species based on collections of such small bone fragments. The overall objective of my project is to build a detailed map of biodiversity and species composition through space and time by applying genetic methods to bone fragments from more than 200 sites worldwide, with a key emphasis on sites in Western Australia. Taken together, the project will generate new data, providing the means to address some of the very fundamental questions of evolution and biodiversity including quantification of anthropogenic impacts on native biodiversity.

This research will serve to make people aware of the effects they have had, and continue to have, on ecosystems – an important message to convey as communities strive to preserve and restore faunal biodiversity in their local environment.

Bhedita Seewoo, Mauritius

I have always felt shaken by how many individuals have to cope with neurological and psychiatric conditions and the impact these conditions have on families and on the society as a whole. This is the reason why I decided to specialise in Neuroscience after completing my undergraduate degree in Biomedical Science. My PhD research builds on my Honours project and is aimed at exploring how brain structure and function relate, a fundamental question underpinning our understanding and appropriate treatment of neurological disorders.

Specifically, my project uses MRI technology (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to detect changes in brain activity, chemistry and structure in rats following repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), a non-invasive form of brain stimulation which uses magnetic pulses to alter brain excitability and plasticity. rTMS is a potential treatment for many neurological and psychiatric disorders, however, the mechanisms underlying its efficacy remain unclear. This knowledge gap is further amplified by the difficulty of aligning the different experimental approaches used in human (non-invasive: functional MRI, TMS and behaviour) and preclinical animal studies (invasive: cellular and molecular outcomes). My goal during my PhD is to address this important inconsistency of approach. I am using complementary non-invasive imaging techniques (e.g., resting-state functional MRI, active fMRI, diffusion tensor imaging) to visualise how rTMS leads to changes in brain activity and chemistry, and track how these changes translate to structural modifications.

As an emerging neuroscientist, I want to make personalized neurological therapies a reality. My ultimate aim is to determine the feasibility and best practice of using rTMS therapeutically to induce long-term stable changes in brain circuitry to alleviate the burden of neurological diseases. This PhD project is my first step towards realising this goal. Completing a PhD is more demanding than a full-time job and therefore, the Forrest Scholarship has given me the opportunity to invest all my time and energy into my true passion- my research. Through the support of the Forrest scholarship, I will be able to acquire the skills, knowledge and contacts that will enable me to reduce the impact of complex neurological and psychiatric conditions in our society.

Emily Hoffmann, Australia

Amphibians are not only fascinating and diverse critters, but form integral components of many ecosystems. Amphibians are also arguably the most threatened group of vertebrates in the present global biodiversity crisis. More than a third of the world’s amphibians are currently threatened with extinction and populations are declining at unprecedented rates. The causes behind these widespread trends are still not clearly understood and nearly half of threatened amphibian species are becoming extinct due to unidentified processes.

My research is focused on the conservation of a Critically Endangered amphibian, the white-bellied frog (Geocrinia alba), which is currently undergoing severe declines. The species is endemic to southwest Western Australia, and is now restricted to a few square kilometres of remaining viable habitat in the Margaret River region.

Current efforts to halt and reverse the decline of white-bellied frogs, such as translocations, are hindered due to knowledge gaps around the factors contributing to population declines as well as the species environmental requirements. My research will investigate the main factors contributing to the decline of white-bellied frogs by examining patterns of persistence and extinction as well as studying the specific habitat and hydrological requirements of the species.

My project aims to provide practical management outcomes for white-bellied frogs such as improving translocation success through identifying key habitat needs and optimising site selection, and ultimately to contribute to increasing the current extent and viability of Western Australia’s most threatened frog species. Additionally, the project will help to increase our understanding of amphibian declines and range-wide conservation management strategies, including translocations for threatened species.

I am enormously grateful to receive a Forrest Scholarship and have the opportunity to be part of an interdisciplinary community of passionate budding researchers.

Ana Paula Motta, Argentina

The Kimberley Region is one of the largest rock art provinces in the world and covers a wide range of human figures with varied ornamentation, painted through a long-time sequence. As such, Kimberley rich-in content depictions represent an ideal case study for studying how indigenous populations from North-eastern Kimberley materially expressed their identity through rock art. Rock art is an ideal medium for exploring social identity/ies as it has been argued that it was closely linked to country, material culture, animals, plants, and other beings. For this reason, my research focuses on the analysis of human and animal relations by studying art depictions where these two species are engaged (e.g. hunting and dancing), to explore the contribution of animals to human identity.

The relevance of my project relies on the linkage between theoretical approaches to identity theory and archaeological evidence,and the implementation of a relational approach that takes into account alternative constructions of identity; thus, approaching its study from a holistic viewpoint firmly grounded on rock art, material culture, and the landscape. As a result, my research will inform us on how both contemporaneous and past societies engaged with their past and how they coped with changing environments through expressions of identity.

Through the generosity of the Forrest Foundation I am able to study at one of the leading Rock art research centres in the world (CRAR+M) and participate from international and national conferences relevant for my study area. I am very fortunate to carry out research in the Kimberley and learn about other forms of knowledge and culture than my own.

Karissa Lear, USA

I have always been interested in marine life and marine ecosystems. Growing up in Seattle, one of my favourite things to do as a kid was to go down to the beach and search for fish and invertebrates in the tidepools. I pursued this interest throughout my undergraduate studies, including spending a semester in the Turks and Caicos Islands studying behavioural patterns of spotted eagle rays, and was fascinated by the complex movement patterns and social dynamics of these animals. After my undergrad, I worked for several years at Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida, using accelerometers, the same type of technology found in smart phones, FitBits, and other smart devices, to study behaviour and physiology in sharks and other marine animals. Accelerometers measure three-dimensional movement, and can detect each tailbeat a fish makes and fine-scale changes in their posture, providing much information about an animal’s behaviour. I love being able to use this technology to learn what these animals do in the field, where it is difficult, if not impossible, to directly observe them, and am excited to continue this work during my post-graduate studies.

My PhD project investigates how temperature affects the behaviour and activity patterns of sharks and rays, focussing on freshwater sawfish and bull sharks in the Fitzroy River in the Kimberley. The Fitzroy represents one of the last intact nursery habitats for freshwater sawfish worldwide, which are now listed as a critically endangered species. I am using accelerometry alongside respirometry techniques to study how temperature drives the behaviour, physiology, and energy use of freshwater sawfish and bull sharks. This information will be used to forecast how climate change and land use actions in the Kimberley will impact future sawfish and bull shark populations, and to assess how to best guide conservation measures for this critically endangered species and their ecosystem.

Manou Rosenberg, Germany

The increasing use of renewable energy with its opportunities and challenges is a topic which will affect the energy system of every country sooner or later. Researchers from all over the world will need to collaborate to find efficient solutions in order to use of a higher portion of renewable energy resources. After completing my Master studies in Mathematics I wanted to apply the theoretical skills I gained in the field of optimisation and its applications in a useful and relevant way. As a topic of increasing importance I am especially interested in optimisation to realise renewable energy.

The changing generation mix for the power system as well as a retirement of large portions of current power distribution infrastructure in rural Western Australian areas provide the chance to restructure the connection to power supply customers in these areas. Recently UWA researchers have used basic Artificial Intelligence techniques to identify modification options for customer connections to the power grid. My research is focused on improving these algorithms in order to realise a new infrastructure, which is cost efficient and reliable while at the same time be able to deal with the fluctuating energy supply of renewable energy sources. It also involves modelling the temporal life of potential microgrid and grid infrastructure and to ensure compatibility with the updates, replacement and maintenance cycles of the existing grid.

Throughout my research I want to contribute to new developments in the theory of optimisation algorithms while also improving the applications to the Western Australia power network infrastructure. My research has the potential to improve the effectiveness and optimise the cost of renewing the power supply infrastructure in Western Australia. Thereby it will be possible to build up localised energy systems of distributed renewable energy resources, which could be an example for similarly structured areas elsewhere.

I am very grateful for the opportunities I get through the wide-ranging support and the interdisciplinary and international connections among researchers by the Forrest Research Foundation.

Gladymar Perez, Venezuela

Whooping cough (pertussis) is a life-threatening vaccine-preventable disease caused by the pertussis bacteria. Two different types of pertussis vaccines are available: whole cell vaccines, which still contribute to decrease the burden of severe disease in underdeveloped countries, and acellular vaccines, introduced in Australia in the late nineties. Though coverage of infants with 3 doses of pertussis vaccines in Australia is above 90%, the country is being beaten by the disease. In addition, the swap from whole-cell to acellular pertussis vaccine coincides with a rise in food allergy and eczema and today, 3 in 10 children will develop any of these atopic conditions by their first birthday.

My research will provide evidence about the allergy protective benefits of the addition of an early, single dose of whole-cell into the infant schedule. By using a mixed vaccine schedule, better protection against pertussis is also expected. The support from Forrest Research Foundation will allow me to complete my PhD at the Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines & Infectious Diseases from the Telethon Kids Institute, a world-class child health institute in WA, where this novel immunisation strategy was developed. There is the potential for this study to create a significant impact on local and global immunization policies and I cannot wait to begin!