SORTEE member voices – Lauren White

By SORTEE | July 25, 2022

[SORTEE member voices is a weekly Q&A with a different SORTEE member]

Name: Dr Lauren C White.

Date: 10 July 2021.

Position: Post-doctoral researcher.

Research and/or work interests: My work primarily uses genetic data gathered from wild animal populations to address fundamental questions on how natural selection shapes life and practical questions of how we can conserve it. My most recent project focuses on chimpanzee kinship dynamics and uses genomic data to estimate pairwise relatedness across an entire community of wild chimpanzees. This dataset allows me to examine age-specific changes in local relatedness in chimpanzees, which has implications for the evolution of menopause and inbreeding avoidance. I also work closely with conservation practitioners to answer questions that guide management of threatened species. This work has ranged from improving the genetic fingerprinting methods used to monitor population size of the northern hairy-nosed wombat, to assessing genetic diversity to guide gene-swaps and reintroductions of numerous species such as the greater stick-nest rat. Finally, my research also frequently involves methods development, as I often make use of sub-optimal genetic samples (ancient DNA, museum specimens, feces, hair and feathers), which are usually easier and more ethical to collect, but which require unique analytical treatments.

How did you become interested in open research?
We’re taught, from high school upwards, that good science must be reproducible. When I started my research career it became clear very quickly that the only way that science could be made truly reproducible is if it were done in a completely open and transparent way. Good science is exciting, it gets me out of bed in the morning, and I hope, through increased awareness and implementation of open research practices, we can create more of it.    

If you had the power to change one thing about current research practices in your field, what would it be?
I would overhaul the publishing system that we currently use. I imagine something like a git-hub system, in which discussions, changes and progress are logged and tracked communally and continuously. It is exciting to see progress in this direction in recent years!    

Where were you born and raised?
I was born and grew up in Adelaide, South Australia.    

Do you have a favorite non-human organism? What is it and why is it your favorite?
Wombats have a very special place in my heart. Growing up, my favourite toy was a plush wombat (I still have him with me today, his name’s Wally). Then, when I was 8, I tried petting a wombat at a sanctuary through his enclosure fence. I think he mistook my finger for a carrot and gave it a nip (I screamed like he took off my whole hand, but he really didn’t bite very hard, and I was fine). Years later, wombats would become my first study organism. Also, they poop cubes, how can you not love that?    

Where to find you online?:
Twitter handle: @lozwhite

Lauren White