• iceberg
  • boy with flowers
  • checking water quality
  • planet eclipse
  • solarsystem model
  • rangitoto trees
  • kids with test tubes
  • kids with earth
  • snowy mountains
  • teens in physics class
  • Rainbow Clouds

    Refraction and diffraction of light through ice crystals in the clouds

  • Philippa On The Ice

    Philippa On The Ice Philippa Werry at an Antarctic research camp 2016

New Zealand Science Teacher


Is Teaching in your DNA?


From Africa to Aotearoa – the longest journey


 “Who am I, and where do I come from?” 

Who doesn’t want to know the answers to those questions?   240 teachers are receiving information about their ancient family origins, following DNA analysis through National Geographic’s Genographic project, and sharing the information with their students.

DNA kits (value US$200 each) were sent to applicant teachers as part of a programme devised by University of Otago and the Biology Educators’ Association of NZ (BEANZ).  Although the kits have now been fully subscribed, the other resources are available for use by all teachers at http://www.otago.ac.nz/allan-wilson-research/study/africa-to-aotearoa.html, and are listed below.  Sir Jerry Mateparae, Sir Anand Satyanand, and Gisborne Mayor, Meng Foon, have given their own DNA results for teachers and students to look at.     

The programme has been funded by the Ministry for Business Innovation and Employment Unlocking Curious Minds Fund, put simply, 'to engage the unengaged'.

What could be more engaging than the story of how modern humans dispersed out of Africa 60,000+ years ago, and then went their different ways to ultimately populate the entire globe, replacing other human species.  The last and most dangerous leg of the human journey was to Aotearoa New Zealand.  To consider that we are all the survivors of a continuous line of mothers and fathers that can be traced back to one mother, and one father, in Africa; and that we are therefore all closely related; is a profound idea, and one worth emphasising right now.

Students are invited to submit short videos of themselves recounting their own family stories. These feature how they came to be in Aotearoa New Zealand, whether that was in a waka, sailing ship, or modern aeroplane. The premise is that everyone’s story is important and interesting.  Five DNA kits have been reserved as prizes for the best videos.

Professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith, the eminent biological anthropologist at University of Otago, who is leading the programme, has sampled and analysed the DNA of over 2,000 New Zealanders and is currently writing up her results.  She is also collating a number of interesting stories that her subjects had to tell into a book, which will be published in early 2019.

The punchline:  New Zealand is one of the most genetically diverse countries in the world, and, surprisingly, Dunedin is just as diverse as Wellington.  Of course, there are many more Maori and people of Pacific origin in Auckland, Hamilton and Gisborne than in other cities, but when you marry all of this data together, it paints a picture of our unique and rich diversity and history.

After all the results from the teachers are in, Lisa will be able to add them to the database and maybe tell us whether “teaching is in your DNA”.  Such reductive thinking, as we know, is the bane of an evolutionary biologist’s life.  Nevertheless, the results, anonymously aggregated, will be fun to see.

Lisa introduces the topic of ancient human origins and migration, and the relatively recent settlement of the Pacific, in two videos, available on line.  While the “Out of Africa” video is geared more towards the senior biology curriculum.  The second, on the settlement of the Pacific, is also pitched for the social sciences. She has also helpfully uploaded her two powerpoint presentations.

Other resources are:

  • An excellent, comprehensive backgrounder for teachers, written by teachers  Jean Allibone and Caroline Hepburn-Doole.
  • As already stated, DNA results from National Geographic for Sir Jerry Mateparae, Sir Anand Satyanand, and Gisborne Mayor, Meng Foon.  Teachers will receive results in similar format.
  • Instructions on how to record and upload students’ stories.



If you have any enquiries about the programme, please contact Laura at: 


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