Growing up along the Adelaide Metropolitan coastline, it was impossible not to fall in love with the ocean. As a young girl, I fell in love with dolphins and grew a curiosity for the oceans inhabitants. This curiosity led me to study Marine biology at Flinders University. During this time, my passion for marine mammals was reignited, leading me to undertake an honours project on the susceptibility and resistance of bottlenose dolphins to cetacean morbillivirus (CeMV). By conducting a genome-wide association study of 35,493 SNPs, we found two candidate genes that increased the odds of a bottlenose dolphin succumbing to CeMV during the 2013 GSV outbreak, which killed at least 37 dolphins.
Leading on from this work, my PhD will now assess variation using a larger dataset of case and control samples of the 2013 GSV outbreak, and at a whole genome level, to enable a comprehensive assessement of the polygenic nature of CeMV susceptibility and resistance. I will focus on genes that have previously been found to be associated with morbilliviruses, our identified candidate genes involved in CeMV infection, and immune responses to viruses, as well as novel genes that may show a genotype-phenotype association. With CeMV outbreaks becoming increasingly more common, identifying variation amongst genes associated with the disease is vital for understanding i) the role that selection plays in shaping patterns of variation in susceptibility and resistance, ii) the risks of individuals of succumbing to the disease, and iii) the potential for outbreaks leading to declines of cetacean populations and species.