Oonagh Bodin - Interview with UoM PhD Toni Cox

Posted by on 31 August 2016 | Comments

For my final interview before I sign out and hand over my blogging rights onto the next ASM communications ambassador, we have Toni Cox! Toni is another microbial researcher that I was lucky enough to meet at the New Zealand Microbial Ecology Consortium (NZMEC4.0) in Auckland earlier this year! Originally from New Zealand, Toni is in the final 6 months of her PhD at the University of Melbourne.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

What are you currently researching in your PhD?

My current research looks at the microbial distribution and phylogeny of a deep subseafloor biosphere in the Nankai Trough, off the southwestern coast of Japan. This is completed through extracting genomic DNA from sediment and basalt core samples, and amplifying genes of interest through PCR. These include 16S rRNA gene (identification), dsrAB gene (sulfate reduction metabolism), mcrA gene (methanogenesis and reverse methanogenesis), and pmoA gene (methane oxidation). The genes are then sequenced using Illumina MiSeq sequencing and then compared against cultured and subseafloor microorganisms to create phylogenetic trees. The aim of this research is to understand how the largest aquifer on our planet, subseafloor basalts, reawaken dead zones in subseafloor sediments.

What drew you to this area of research?

My Master’s project accidentally came across microfossils within volcanic rocks in New Zealand. These were notoriously difficult to work with as the microorganisms were dead and their preservation was poor. I did however, enjoy how microorganisms have the ability to completely change the geochemistry of a system. I decided I wanted to work with alive bugs and active geologic systems for my PhD.

What interests you most?

I really like how microorganisms can adapt to extreme conditions. Their optimum growth conditions are almost always stretched in the deep subseafloor. They are incredibly persistent life forms.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Likely steering away from the academic path. I can see myself as a science communicator or science-based editor, or working on the biogeochemistry of contaminated land in Victoria.

What advice would you give PhDs who are just starting out or those who are wishing to start one soon?

This is the hardest and most rewarding project you will do. Take every opportunity to learn a new technique, whether it be in the lab, communication-based, leadership skills, etc. Don’t be too hard on yourself, you’re already a perfectionist. Seek help if you are struggling and talk to your peers.

Why microbiology? Why science?

Microbiology was an accident; I was previously studying Geology. Now I call myself a microbiologist because the possibilities for microorganisms are endless. Science has always interested me, I have an insatiable need to know how something formed, why something doesn’t make sense, and how I can fix it. I love problem solving.

Thanks Toni! To find out more about the research happening in Melbourne Geomicrobiology lab visit their webpage HERE.