Prizes for PhD student Martyna Molak

Martyna Molak
MEEP PhD student Martyna Molak has won the Faculty of Science Postgraduate Research Prize for Outstanding Academic Achievement. This prize was awarded for her research into estimating evolutionary rates and timescales using ancient DNA.

Martyna has also been awarded a scholarship from the Winton Charitable Foundation. This scholarship supports student projects that span both mathematics and biology.

“The scholarships are an excellent opportunity to collaborate with academics from the School of Mathematics and Statistics,” said biology student Joshua Christie. “Hopefully this holistic approach will generate more illuminating findings than could be obtained by either biological experiments or mathematical modelling alone.”

Martyna is working on “Developing a theoretical framework for studies of ancient DNA”, and is supervised by Associate Professor Simon Ho.

DNA extracted from ancient specimens such as mummified tissues, preserved plants and permafrost cores is termed ‘ancient DNA’. This ancient DNA is used to study evolution but its usefulness can be limited by damage due to time and exposure. “I am exploring the possibilities and limits of evolutionary inference using DNA extracted from ancient materials,” explained Martyna. “My project elaborates theoretical framework for ancient DNA studies.”

“I am investigating how different aspects of ancient DNA, such as post-mortem damage, uncertainty in estimating ages of samples and scarcity of ancient DNA sequences, can affect the reliability of evolutionary studies which incorporate such samples.” Martyna is using statistical methods, mathematical models and computer simulations to quantify these effects and provide guidelines for designing future ancient DNA analyses.

“I feel so honoured by being awarded the Winton Charitable Trust top-up scholarship. It is very motivating receiving such recognition.”