Ms Marja O'Neill
Biochemistry, Genetics and Microbiology
I joined the Forest Molecular Genetics (FMG) Research Programme at the University of Pretoria in 2004 as an undergraduate assistant and continued in the group for the duration of my postgraduate career. In 2009 I completed an M.Sc. degree in Genetics, investigating the effect on xylogenesis of overexpressing the Eucalyptus grandis Cellulose Synthase 1 (EgrCesA1) gene in the model plant, Arabidopsis thaliana; thereafter I worked as Research Assistant in the DNA Fingerprinting Team and Research Administrator for FMG. In 2012, I became more involved in research related to my personal interest in population genetics and genomics. I am currently the Project Coordinator for genomic selection and marker assisted breeding projects at FMG. In this capacity, I manage all single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) genotyping projects and coordinate downstream applications in genomic selection and marker-assisted breeding.
Since April 2017, I have also been a full-time Ph.D. student. In light of predicted climate change and the anticipated increase in extreme weather conditions, it is more important than ever to understand how the environment affects the survival and fitness of organisms. In order to better understand how Eucalyptus grandis responds to changing environments and selection pressures, I aim to determine the fine-scale population structure of native E. grandis within the context of known environmental variation and relate this to South African breeding populations to elucidate what extent of native genetic diversity is present and absent in current breeding programmes. I will also use population genomics to decipher how artificial selection has affected the genomic architecture of South African breeding populations. This research provides the first step towards landscape genomics of E. grandis and the development of models for improved genotype-by-site matching.