DNA Detective

Dr Jessica Worthington Wilmer is a research scientist in the Biodiversity and Geosciences program at Queensland Museum (QM). She’s also the Manager of QM’s Molecular Identities Laboratory and Frozen Tissue Collection.

Dr Jessica Worthington Wilmer

Jessica gets to work on some really cool things!

She’s used genetics to look at the population structure of tiny little aquatic snails living in Artesian springs in Australian deserts; used DNA to determine the influence of incubation temperature on the sex of Brush-turkey chicks and embryos; and also identified new species of fabulous things like leaf-tailed geckos and sea anemones.

Currently Jessica is working on the landscape genetics of SE Queensland mammals (specifically koalas, northern brown bandicoots, yellow-footed antechinus, sugar and squirrel gliders) with collaborators at the University of Queensland and with four of SE Queensland’s super-councils.

In the image on the left Jessica is working over the Trans-illuminator gel documentation system, preparing samples for DNA testing.

Next year, the Molecular Identities Laboratory (MIL) at Queensland Museum will celebrate its 10th birthday.  Since it was established in 2002, the lab has hosted research across a wide range of animal groups, always with the overarching aim of using DNA data to identify new and existing species.  The primary work of MIL is species-level discrimination using DNA tools. However, sequence data is used further to explore the evolutionary inter-relationships among groups and species.

Genetic Sequence Data

Note the A T G C letters in the DNA sequence data at the left. These represent the four nitrogen bases in the genetic code: namely adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytosine.

Later this year Jessica and colleague, Dr Kathryn Hall, will be presenting posters at the International Bar Coding of Life conference in Adelaide, showcasing the role that the QM and the MIL have played in several international bar coding collaborations.

To find out more about the research that Jessica does, watch the video Applications of DNA technology or visit her Biography Page.

You may also like to look at an online learning resource where DNA techniques were used to determine the life cycle of a parasite that infects the Sydney rock oyster. The resource is called Disease Detectives.