Priyadarshana (Priya) Ajithkumar

Priyadarshana (Priya) Ajithkumar

Master of Science

Her master’s research could make a big difference to farmers’ livelihoods and the survival of an endangered New Zealand plant, says AUT Master of Science alumna Priyadarshana (Priya) Ajithkumar.

“I investigated the Lettuce necrotic yellows virus, which infects lettuce in New Zealand and Australia. It can cause major losses to lettuce farmers, and can also infect the New Zealand native puha, Sonchus kirkii, which is an endangered plant.

“My first aim was to develop a molecular diagnostic test to distinguish between the subgroups of this virus. The test I’ve developed is faster, more efficient, accurate and sensitive than the conventional methods. It will help farmers reduce the progression of the virus in lettuce crops by identifying the virus faster.”

The research is important from a conservation point of view, says Priya who has presented her research project to Plant and Food Research, and the Australasian Plant Virology Workshop.

“There’s very little known about viruses in native New Zealand plants. Since the virus can infect the endangered puha, it’s important to understand how the virus population is changing and whether or not this will have a significant impact on a plant species that is already vulnerable. What we learn through this research may help with protecting our most at risk plants.”

Research that matters
She would like to use her understanding of molecular biology to make a difference to the environment and conservation efforts, Priya says.

“Studying at AUT has inspired me to work in molecular genetics research, and continue being involved in research that will help the New Zealand environment and communities. I’m currently finishing the analysis from my master’s research, and am planning to publish the data in a scientific journal this year. I’m also working on a research project to determine the effects of kauri dieback on fungi for Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research.”

Further study is on the cards, says Priya.

“I’m very interested in continuing my studies with a PhD in the future. My master’s research project has given me a first glance of the field of research, and I’d be interested in exploring this further.”

Designed for change
She would highly recommend the AUT science programmes to others, Priya says.

“AUT is known for conducting research that benefits the community and creates good changes for society. AUT always encourages its students and the staff to advance their knowledge, and there are many amazing supervisors and projects available at AUT.”

She also appreciated how AUT supports students in achieving their goals.

“AUT has a strong reputation for helping students achieve their goals and bring out their potential. AUT constantly adapts to provide more support and facilities to students and staff, and revises its programmes to ensure students develop the skills that are highly valued in the industry.”