Alice Cunnington, MSc
I am a PhD student working on the use of natural sentinels for environmental DNA monitoring under the supervision of Stefano Mariani, Kirstie Scott and Craig Wilding. I will be investigating and comparing different natural sentinels by using eDNA and metabarcoding techniques to construct vertebrate and diatom assemblages along selected areas of the UK coastline. This research has the potential to be extremely important as it could offer accurate and affordable biomonitoring techniques whilst being relatively non invasive.
Both my undergraduate and postgraduate choices and work to date reflect a deep interest and curiosity in all aspects of marine and freshwater ecology. I completed my BSc(Hons) Zoology at the University of Salford in 2015. During my time there I chose modules in marine and freshwater biology and my thesis was entitled ‘Toxoplasmosis in the Marine Environment’.
I then went on to complete an MSc in Freshwater and Marine Ecology at Queen Mary University of London in 2016. Whilst at Queen Mary University, my thesis was in collaboration with the University of Leuven, with the title The Effects of Human-Induced Eutrophication on Parasitism and Feeding Ecology: Using the Threespine Stickleback as a Model Species. In order to complete this, I sampled 26 rivers across the Scheldt Basin, Belgium. Towards the end of my MSc I was also involved in turtle and shark conservation work in Maio, Cape Verde. We carried out public engagement projects in which we helped make and circulate a children's book about turtle conservation in local schools as well as showing footage (from our BRUVS fieldwork) of the range of biodiversity in their communities fishing areas.
For the past 4 years I have been working in the field of genomics, initially as a research assistant at the Sanger Institute’s Single Cell Genomics Centre, then progressing to the Tumour Profiling Unit at the Institute of Cancer Research. This enabled me to gain extensive laboratory experience in molecular biology and Next Generation Sequencing. I have Library Preparation knowledge for Total RNA, rRNA, mRNA, Whole Genome Sequencing, Whole Exome Sequencing, Exome capture and Single Cell. I’m also experienced in using a range of sequencers, including Illumina Hiseq 2500, NovaSeq, Oxford Nanopore, ProtonIon and MGISeq-2000. I have also been part of a few research and development projects involving testing new cutting edge technologies in robotics and tailoring protocols to FFPE, poor quality tumour samples.
A long time enthusiast for all things fish, I am very excited to be returning not only to academic research and aquatic ecology, but also to the North of England. In particular, I’m looking forward to using my experience managing workflows, leading projects and finding innovative solutions in my doctoral work. My aim is to combine my existing experience in the field of NGS with my passion for freshwater and marine biology to carry out research on the use of natural sentinels in marine environmental DNA monitoring.