Dr Camilla Whittington
University of Sydney
Comparative genomics/Evolutionary biology
Viviparity (live birth) is a critical evolutionary innovation that allowed animals, rather than laying eggs, to incubate embryos internally and exploit new environments. However, this game-changing novelty is poorly understood because pregnancy is produced by the collective action and evolution of thousands of genes. Dr Whittington is using cutting-edge techniques to identify ‘pregnancy genes’, the instructions in an animal’s DNA causing it to have a live baby rather than lay an egg, and is using these to understand how pregnancy evolved over millions of years from egg-laying ancestors.
Her work identifies the fundamental processes of pregnancy, which when disturbed may cause complications of human and animal pregnancy and also expands our knowledge of reproduction in our native animals, which is critical to designing captive breeding programs for threatened and endangered species.
Recently Camilla contributed her genetics and venom expertise to develop a TV series being funded by Discovery Channel Europe (Australia is not just trying to kill you) that aims to showcase the societal benefit of Australian wildlife research. She also actively participates in an ongoing partnership with the science department at Orange Anglican Grammar School, presenting seminars and practical activities.