Behind the scenes: Meet CT, our lead scientist

Author: Molly Czachur

If you’ve worked with NatureMetrics before, it’s likely that you will have benefitted from the dedication of lead scientist Dr CT, who is one of the original four employees. CT oversees many aspects of the environmental DNA workflow, and since joining in August 2016, has led the development of new protocols and maintained the high standard of commercial services.

In this blog post, we hear some of the rewards of working with cutting-edge environmental DNA methodologies, and some things that CT wishes we all knew about environmental DNA.

When I asked CT about his role at NatureMetrics, the ‘wow’ factor was immediate. Beyond the day-to-day tasks of managing the technical team and reporting on data, he described a map hanging in their office. Each time the team reaches a new country, an area of the map is scratched away. CT is involved in “anything and everything”, so he sees the growth of their techniques first hand and this seems to create an exciting sense of pride as they see their methodologies reach new corners of the globe.

CT is particularly proud of the fish eDNA pipeline that they have established. It was one of the first things they set up and got running. It’s come a long way from those early days when passers-by would give them strange looks as they took water samples in the local park. Now they have a well established and high-quality pipeline that has detected all sorts of amazing species from the Amazon to the Arctic. They’ve achieved some quite extraordinary data on fish communities without ever seeing the actual fish. Some traditional methods would’ve required electrocuting the target fishes just to find out that they are living there.

The work of CT and his colleagues has really had an impact. They take data based on non-invasive environmental DNA surveys and produce results with tangible uses in the real world. This is a noticeable difference from the more traditional academic experience, where the ‘real world’ doesn’t feel so close. Having an open and collaborative team also helps, especially because the NatureMetrics team shares CT’s passion. With such a dedicated team, it’s no wonder that they go above and beyond to produce high-quality work at increasingly higher throughput rates.

It takes time to develop and finetune these methodologies, but the team reap the benefits of watching their work spread to projects in a range of ecosystems and geographical regions. The environmental DNA methods are typically difficult to explain, and their benefits and limitations sometimes appear to be quite abstract. I asked CT what he wishes everybody knew about environmental DNA surveys, and he pinpointed two main things. Firstly, we have the potential to revolutionise how biodiversity is monitored if we can properly understand these DNA molecules in the environment. At the same time, his second call to action is that we should all appreciate that there are inherent biases and limitations of using this tool, much like with traditional biodiversity monitoring methods. He thinks that with increased use, people are beginning to appreciate the power of environmental DNA methods, and are beginning to notice how it stacks up against conventional techniques.

Outside of work, CT is an avid climber, confessing that he may not be particularly good but he’s very keen. He expressed an interest in climbing El Capitan or at least visiting the world-famous rock formation. It’s an impressive granite wall in Yosemite National Park which reaches heights of almost 3,000 ft. Looking at his work ethic, it’s no surprise that CT also bears such ambitious qualities in his personal life. We’ll all be looking out for (the first?) environmental DNA samples to be taken atop El Capitan- if it happens then you heard it here first!