Rats reveal potential for human DNA recovery, in PhD passion project that began with work experience

28 September 2022

Rockhampton scientist Holly Hosking is taking her research into DNA damage and repair onto a global stage' and the journey began with Year 10 work experience.

The CQUniversity PhD researcher and casual academic is through to the international semi-final of 3 Minute Thesis (3MT)' a global challenge for research students to share and communicate their work.

Ms Hosking took top spot in the CQU round of the competition' with her work putting rat DNA under the microscope' to help understand the processes involved in recovery from DNA damage.

Vote for Holly's entry in the People's Choice international semi-final here!

The enthusiastic 26-year-old said she's been passionate about science all her life.

"I remember doing work experience when I was 14' and coming home and telling my mum' I'm going to do a PhD!" she said.

"And actually' I did that work experience at CQUniversity' with a medical science researcher Dr Andrew Fenning – and now he's one of my PhD supervisors."

Dr Fenning is co-supervising the PhD project with Associate Professor Paul Neilsen' and associate supervisor Wayne Pederick.

Presenting to camera for 3MT' Ms Hosking outlined her focus on DNA' and how she introduced rats to the study' in her entry named DNA Damage Repair is Rat-ical.

"I'm particularly interested in studying how your DNA-repair response changes as you age'" she explained.

"Originally I was just looking at humans – but within a PhD you can't follow a human across a lifetime to notice differences during ages.

"But a rat lifespan is much shorter' so I collected blood from rats … and then put chemicals in the blood cells to put breaks in both strands of the DNA' simulating exposure to radiation from x-rays' for example.

"I found that male and female' in both rats and humans' showed different DNA-repair responses' and ageing actually lowered the amount of DNA damage that occurred after we induced double-strand breaks.

"This shows promise for using rats as a model of how the DNA-repair response changes as we age."

Holly Hosking 3MT 2022 from Holly Hosking on Vimeo.

Ms Hosking's science focus grew at high school with CQUniversity's Start Uni Now program' gaining a jump start on her Bachelor of Medical Science with CQU.

She began her PhD in 2018' and has been monitoring rats for the past 18 months.

With just six months to go in her PhD' Ms Hosking hopes to continue her DNA research' and to inspire the next generation of scientists too.

"I love lecturing' and it's been great to have that opportunity at CQU'" she said.

"But I'm most excited to keep my research going' and explore ways to streamline the blood testing' do bigger trials' and collaborate with more research centres."

Over the next two weeks' two judging panels will review and select eight finalists from the 57 competitors' to proceed to the 2022 Virtual Asia-Pacific 3MT Final held via livesteam' on Wednesday 19 October. A ninth wild-card entry will be chosen via the People's Choice vote.

CQU's 3MT round also saw Physiotherapy researcher and academic Sasha Job win the people's choice award' for her presentations Tides of Change' and research into promoting beach access for people with disabilities.

Ronald Addo-Quaye from the School of Business and Law received a special commendation from judges for his entry Africa is doing it differently' looking at fintech disruption and innovation.

School of Graduate Research Dean' Professor Susan Kinnear' said the big cohort of entrants fielded an impressive body of work.

"All the contestants did a great job of crafting the best way to tell their research story' as well as summoning up the courage to deliver their piece to camera'" she said.

"Congratulations to everyone who submitted an entry and of course' special congratulations to our prizewinners for 2022.

"Our best wishes now go to Holly' who competes in the Asia-Pacific 3MT Semi-Final from Monday 26 September."

All 13 CQU entries can be viewed here: https://www.cqu.edu.au/research/research-communication-competitions