PhD students group photo for website

Forging global links to bridge science and business

We never stop learning about our science, our world, or ourselves. As part of this, AbacusBio is excited to offer opportunities for young scientists, coming from all parts of the world.

As a leading agri-technology firm, we believe that a global perspective is vital in order for us to solve complex problems in an increasingly interconnected world.

We face many challenges in modern agriculture; we need to produce safe, high-quality food for growing populations, contribute to rural development, ensure sustainability, and adapt to climate change.

Solving complex challenges requires lateral-thinkers and currently, there is a trend towards interdisciplinary projects that require input from a range of experts.

“Our traditional system of producing new knowledge through basic research and educating new generations of scientists and engineers is transitioning towards one that involves collaboration of both researchers and industry,” AbacusBio managing director Anna Campbell says.

Attracting international researchers to collaborate with businesses helps bridge the gap between academic and industrial disciplines, and drives that much-needed practical change at a faster pace.

Animal scientist Bruno Santos, who moved from Brazil to Dunedin in 2012 to join AbacusBio as a consultant, says he was “very frustrated with the low level of sheep productivity back home”.

Common breeds in the southern areas of Brazil are quite similar to those in New Zealand’s sheep industry, but the lack of application of appropriate technology and production systems in the commercial environment creates a bottleneck in the supply chain, and so the benefits are not realised by a large part of the industry; this also applies to dairy and beef.

“Interestingly, the best dairy farm in Brazil for milk quality and profitability uses a New Zealand model,” Bruno says.

Complementary to his work as a consultant at AbacusBio, Bruno is researching the value of performance recording and genotyping in commercial livestock, as part of a PhD programme at the University of New England in Australia.

His PhD programme is supported by Beef + Lamb New Zealand Genetics and the Australian Co-operative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation.

Bruno’s research outcomes will determine how investments in phenotyping and new genetic technology could deliver commercial benefits to farmers.

Nana Bortsie-Aryee, who came from Ghana to AbacusBio as a PhD student, experienced first-hand the phenomenal impact research can have on commercial outcomes in his previous roles in Germany and the USA.

There he worked on environment and bioenergy development projects. In moving to New Zealand, he was interested in exploring how sustainability can be part of our food story.

His PhD research, carried out through AbacusBio and the University of Otago’s department of management, explores beneficial ways of building competitive advantage around water as part of a marketing strategy for New Zealand agribusinesses.

Nana is supported by a fellowship from Callaghan Innovation and has just submitted his thesis.

New Zealand’s reputation for its clean and green image was one of the reasons Mi Tang came from China to do a PhD at the University of Otago’s department of botany.

Compared to China, New Zealand has a much cleaner environment, Mi says, and the PhD programme is an exciting opportunity for her to apply research outcomes to practical commercial inputs for plant breeding companies.

She is investigating (under the supervision of AbacusBio consultant Peter Fennessy) how plants react to environmental pollutants on a cellular level and hopes to develop breeding strategies around improving plants’ resistance to pollutant uptake.

This will assist us to reduce the amount of pollutants entering the food supply for humans and animals.

Genetic improvement offers a wide array of opportunities to not only solve environmental issues, but also maintain and add merit to the food value chain.

Having grown up on a farm in Germany, Gertje Petersen was aware that genetics play a huge role in food production and new thinking is a pre-requisite to maximising its potential.

Gertje, who is enrolled in a PhD programme at the University of Otago’s department of biochemistry, is investigating the genetics and breeding management of bees.

Bees are now highly dependent on humans for management because of the varroa mite, which is “fast reducing the number of bees worldwide”.

Gertje is collaborating with Marlborough-based bee-keeping firm, Taylor Pass Honey Company as part of a wider project at AbacusBio, where Peter Fennessy and Peter Amer are her supervisors.

Gertje first came to AbacusBio as an intern in 2013. Her interest in the bee genetics industry and passion to apply research to solve commercial problems have spurred her on to embark on a PhD, where she is supported with a fellowship from Callaghan Innovation.

Natalie Howes also has a strong bend towards the applications of science and making a difference to the industry.

Originally from Southland, New Zealand, Natalie’s passion for animals and agriculture at a young age has seen her embark on a multidisciplinary education path with veterinary science, agriculture, animal science, botany, and food science in the mix.

She is finishing a PhD at the University of Otago’s departments of botany and food science, in conjunction with AbacusBio.

Having grown up on a sheep and Angus stud farm, Natalie is a strong advocate of applying science and technology to support farm system outcomes.

Her research investigates how diet and genetics can influence the meat composition of lamb, in a bid to lift our exports out of commodity markets.

“Feeding diets and improving genetics are both strong drivers for a healthier nutritional profile and better meat eating quality, both of which could reap greater earnings for farmers,” Natalie says.

“Applied science is all about innovating on-the-go and coming up with new possibilities to achieve better outcomes.”

Natalie is supported with an Alliance Group Fellowship and collaborates with Alliance Group and Headwaters Limited.

“It’s hard to describe how much these students bring to our team,” Anna says.

“Fresh thinking, energy, and a desire to make a difference are truly infectious.”


Photo (from left to right): Natalie Howes, Bruno Santos, Mi Tang, Gertje Petersen, Nana Bortsie-Aryee