Mr Colan Balkwill

MSc student


Biochemistry, Genetics and Microbiology
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Primary Supervisor
Eshchar Mizrachi

I am currently a first year MSc Genetics student with the Forest Molecular Genetics programme. I completed my honours degree in genetics at the University of Pretoria in 2013, under the supervision of Dr. Albe van der Merwe as part of the TPCP (Tree Protection Co-operative Programme and CTHB (DST/NRF Centre of Excellence in Tree Health Biotechnology), working on sexual identity in the Gibberella fujikuroi species complex. Specifically I focussed on determining the level of transmission ratio distortion of pheromone precursor genes in an interspecific hybridization event between Fusarium circinatum and Fusarium temperatum. I have since developed a keen interest in systems biology, specifically focussing on systems and quantitative genetics.

In my MSc I will be focussing on annotating circadian rhythm associated genes in Eucalyptus grandis, as well as network based modelling and robustness testing of the circadian oscillator in a hybrid Eucalyptus population. The ability to anticipate, and thus pre-emptively react to, a changing environment is of great benefit to all organisms. One such environmental change, the cycling between day and night, is one which all organisms must deal with. In sessile plants, the ability to prepare for the cycling between day and night, and thus initiate metabolic and physiological processes which allow pre-emptive reactivity to changing environment, provides an enormous fitness benefit. In order to do this, many organisms have evolved a biological oscillator, the circadian rhythm. This oscillator is based largely on transcriptional feedback loops, which allows such diurnal environmental cycles to be anticipated, and thus physiological and metabolic processes altered accordingly. This study will provide information as to the robust properties of this system in the light of genetic perturbation. In addition, the role of circadian rhythm in carbon allocation and wood biology will begin to be explored, thus contributing the ultimate goal of potential improvement of lignocellulosic biomass properties in forestry tree species.