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This month we shine the light on Elizabeth Wilson, Quarantine Senior Technician at Sugar Research Australia LTD, based in Indooroopilly QLD. Elizabeth has over 30 years of experience working on projects in both human and plant science, with an emphasis on molecular research and diagnostics.

Job title and location: Quarantine Senior Technician, Sugar Research Australia LTD, Indooroopilly QLD

How did you find yourself on this career path?

I have worked on a variety of projects in both human and plant science, with an emphasis on molecular research and diagnostics.

An interesting opportunity came up at BSES (now SRA) and I was fortunate enough to be offered the position.

What does a typical workday look like for you?

My job entails both glasshouse and laboratory work. I mainly work on sugarcane plant material but also do some work on insects. I also liaise with SRA staff and when required, DAFF, NAQS and/or QLD DAF.

I arrive at the Indooroopilly site at 6am, check emails then head down to the glasshouses to monitor plants and carry out any work required in that area. This includes watering, fertilising, trimming, sampling, and preparing plants to be sent to other SRA stations. The laboratory work involves RNA/DNA extractions, RT-PCR, PCR, qPCR, electrophoresis and analysing results.

How long have you worked in this area?

On the 3rd of November this year I will have worked at SRA/BSES for 15 years.

What roles have you held previously? 

  • Laboratory Technician, Southbank Institute of Technology – April 2007 to October 2008

Preparing molecular biology, biology and food technology practical classes and assisting students and lecturers as required.

  • Laboratory Technician, Biological Crop Protection Pty Ltd – September 1999 to November 2004

Isolation, identification and organic control of parasitic and free-living nematodes

  • Laboratory Technician, Menzies School of Health Research – June 1990 to May 1999

Undertaking research projects on Chlamydia. Sp. and Streptococcus pyogenes

  • Laboratory Technician, Northern Territory University – January 1990 to June 1990

Analysis of pesticides in water samples using various extraction methods and analysis such as GC/MS and HPLC.

  • Laboratory Technician, AGEN Biomedical Ltd – September 1987 to March 1989

Research on HIV-1, D-dimer, and canine heartworm diagnostics involving purification, characterization and conjugation of monoclonal mouse antibodies utilizing HPLC and ELISA methods for a rapid whole-blood immunoassay system.

  • Laboratory Assistant, Queensland Institute of Technology – March 1985 to September 1987

Preparing biology practical classes and assisting students and lecturers in class and on off campus field trips.

What training/education have you received?

I obtained an Associate Diploma in Applied Biology from Queensland Institute of Technology, now QUT, in 1984. I also completed a Graduate Certificate in Plant Biosecurity from Murdoch University in 2015.

What is your most memorable career achievement?

Working on an Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) project on Sugarcane streak mosaic virus (SCSMV) in collaboration with various Indonesian groups, ISRI, Bogor. Ag. Uni., ISFRI and CIRAD, in Indonesia.

This was a great experience, which included representing SRA as the field plant pathologist for a survey conducted on 34 sites in 5 Regions of Sulawesi. My role consisted of conducting field inspections and collecting plant and insect samples for disease screening. Back in Australia my work included developing various diagnostic tests and possible insect vector identification for SCSMV from multiple surveys.

Visiting different laboratories and Institutes in Indonesia enabled me to gain an insight into sugarcane research being conducted in areas outside Australia.

What advice would you give anyone starting or changing their career?

Try to be open to exploring new opportunities within your current position or taking the necessary steps to head in a new direction in a new job.

I believe you are never too old to learn new skills in diagnostics and surveillance, methods and technology are moving at such a rapid and exciting pace currently.