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Natalie Weston

Agricultural Scientist

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Raised on a family farm, Natalie Weston likes the fact her work as an agricultural scientist with AgResearch is helping the farming community.

"It was my farming background that got me interested in this job initially. I wanted to do something related to farming and animal production. The fact that I know my work is helping farmers is one of the things I enjoy about this job."

Natalie's DNA research work involves looking at sheep traits and finding the underlying genes responsible, such as those that make some sheep better at resisting parasites than others. She is also testing for the genes that control the presence or absence of horns, which are undesirable on sheep because they can cause injuries and affect the quality of hides and meat.

"It all starts with the extraction of DNA from tissue or blood samples," she says. "We run a series of tests, analyse the results, then run more tests until we pinpoint the genes responsible. You need to have maths and chemistry skills to help make up different solutions. We have machines that do a lot of the work but it can still take a long time to get results."

With so many tests to run it pays to be methodical and have good analytical skills. "You need to be careful with your work. You have days when you’re tired and that's when maybe it’s not a good time to start an experiment because you might end up having to repeat it. You also have to document every step. Computers help us analyse results and if you have some programming skills that would help with the job. You also have to know how to use spreadsheets and write reports."

Working in the genetics field can be enormously satisfying, says Natalie. "We started doing the research on horns two years ago and we think we might already have located the gene for it, which is incredibly fast. It's amazing because you start with the expectation you might not find anything and then you suddenly stumble onto it, and it's like – wow!"

How Natalie became an agricultural scientist

  • 2002 – Secondary school biology teacher encouraged her to pursue scientific research career.
  • 2002 – Found out about AgResearch in her final year at school and made it her goal to get a job with the organisation.
  • 2006 – Got an applied science degree in molecular biotechnology (honours) from Otago University.
  • 2005/06 – Worked at AgResearch on a summer project between her third and fourth university years.
  • 2006 – Secured a permanent job with AgResearch at the end of her studies.

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