Position: Senior research scientist, Cawthron Institute.
Field: Biology – natural toxins, microalgae and microbiology.
Growing up with New Zealand’s outdoors as her playground instilled a desire in Dr Susie Wood to enjoy and preserve our amazing resources. She spent weekends sailing on Wellington Harbour and holidays camping beside New Zealand’s pristine rivers and lakes. She and her siblings were intrigued by the tiny critters clinging to the rocks, and they often dared each other to swim in the coldest water, despite the large lurking eels!
Through university, Susie followed her passions, taking just about every biology course offered, and she graduated with a degree in marine biology from Victoria University. At the outset of her PhD (also at Victoria University), she stumbled upon the wonderful world of freshwater algae and was immediately captured by their diversity, intricate structures and crucial role in freshwater systems. She was excited by the opportunity to understand the role of these tiny organisms and to identify how human actions could cause their proliferation. Susie was awarded a government-funded postdoctoral fellowship from Cawthron and the University of Waikato and since then has really enjoyed being a scientist working on a range of dynamic projects in New Zealand.
Susie’s interests include:
- algae/cyanobacteria taxonomy, ecology and physiology
- microalgae/cyanobacteria isolation and culturing
- biotoxin analysis and monitoring methodologies
- effects of biotoxins on aquatic ecosystems
- molecular techniques for detecting and enumerating microorganisms
- development of molecular detection techniques for detection of marine bioinvasives
- microbial ecosystems in Antarctic freshwater systems
- paleoenvironmental reconstructions.
She leads teams of researchers who work on a range of aquatic-based topics, including molecular-based detection methods and population genetics of marine bioinvasives, microbial source tracking, Antarctic freshwater systems, toxic sea slugs and toxin production and phylogenetics of freshwater and marine algae and cyanobacteria.
Susie co-led a five-year, $12m project for the Cawthron Institute and GNS Science to find out how 380 lakes around the country have changed over the past 1,000 years. This was the largest scientific study ever undertaken on lakes in Aotearoa.
Follow your passion; you will always do best at things you enjoy. Science provides a really amazing way to make a difference and to add value to New Zealand.
While she loves the challenges posed by leading this group and diversifying into new research areas, her passion remains with preserving our freshwater systems. “It’s very rewarding working in the New Zealand freshwater science community and being surrounded by so many brilliant researchers with a genuine passion and desire to maintain and restore New Zealand’s freshwater resources.”
When not working, Susie spends her time running, swimming and cycling around New Zealand. Susie represented New Zealand in cycling at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.
This article is based on information current in 2012 and updated in 2023.