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Serena Dai

Wild Sand Rat Researcher

I moved frequently with my family – I was born in a rural town in China and by the age of 12 had lived in Shanghai, Texas, New York and Beijing. As a child, I was deeply interested in animals and plants. I remember getting a set of encyclopaedias for my 6th birthday, and I read the biology section so many times the pages fell out. In New York City, where I attended primary school, I was always eager to present at the annual school science fair – my chosen topics included chlorophyll, butterfly metamorphosis, and DNA structure.

By the time I entered secondary school in Beijing, I didn’t really think about studying biology at university – until I joined a biology interest group in 10th grade. I was really lucky because that year a research group in the Institute of Microbiology opened its doors to us and allowed us to visit their labs and conduct small research experiments with their graduate students there. This gave me a taster of working in a molecular biology lab and introduced me to technology that wasn’t in our biology textbooks – and I loved it.

I went for a degree in Molecular Biotechnology when I entered university – I wanted to learn more about the things happening at the molecular level and how people were studying these tiny molecules. One of the professors at my university, Dr. Lam, was extremely interested in DNA and the process of soybean domestication. Domesticated soybeans are quite sensitive to increased saline content in the soil, while their wild soybean cousins can thrive in saline-affected land. Dr. Lam aimed to find out what enabled wild soybean plants to survive in high salt conditions using a combination of DNA sequencing technology and genomic studies, and one of the main aims of his research was to breed plants that could be cultivated even in suboptimal soil conditions. His passion for using molecular biology to solve questions influenced me to pursue a PhD in molecular evolution.

Serena Dai
Wild Sand Rat Researcher

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