Dr Kerensa McElroy

OCE Fellow in Evolutionary Rescue

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My research combines population genomics, field work, experimental evolution, and biostatistics to understand genetic adaptation (that is, how species evolve when their environment changes). Until recently, ‘neutral’ genetic markers were used to study the evolutionary histories of populations. Whilst powerful, this approach is limited in its ability to identify the functional targets of evolution. In contrast, whole genome sequencing has the potential to reveal genes that are under direct selection.

Currently, I’m using a population genomics approach to understand climate adaptation in Australian finches. The 17 species of Australian finch – including the tropical Blue-faced Parrot finch, the arid Zebra finch, and the highly endangered Gouldian finch – occur across diverse climatic zones, making them an ideal model system for this project.

Previously, I’ve used population genomics to discover an arms race between the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa and its phage, and to show that Hepatitis C Virus can evolve rapidly within a patient to escape from immune system attack.

Other Interests

I have a strong interest in science education and communication, and enjoy writing about my work and encouraging young scientists. I am a tutor for the volunteer organisation 'Software Carpentry', and have also helped design workshops for Bioplatforms Australia.

Students supervised:

Ayla Wilson, Summer Vacation Research Project (landscape genomics)
2014 - 2015

Alison Luk, UNSW Research Scholarship (bacterial mutation rates)
2010 - 2011


McElroy K.(2014). Positive selection drives short-term diversification of developing Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilms. University of Melbourne Genetics Department Seminar Series. Melbourne, Australia.

McElroy K, Catullo R. (2013). Comparative genomics of climate adaptation in
Drosophila. OCE Genomics Symposium. Canberra, Australia.

McElroy K, Woo J, Majzoub M, Hui J, Kjelleberg S, Rice S, Egan S, Thomas T. (2012). Deep sequencing of evolving bacterial populations. 14th International Symposium on Microbial Ecology. Copenhagen, Denmark.

McElroy K, Luciani F, Hui J, Rice S, Thomas T. (2011). Bacteriophage evolution drives Pseudomonas aeruginosa PA01 biofilm diversification. 19th Annual International Conference on Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology / 10th European Conference on Computational Biology. Vienna, Austria.

McElroy K, Luciani F, Thomas T. (2011). GemSIM: General, Error-Model Based Simulator of next- generation sequencing. Bioinformatics Open Source Conference. Vienna, Austria.

Academic Qualifications

  • 2013

    Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Applications of Next-gen Sequencing to Microbial Evolution
    The University of New South Wales

  • 2007

    Masters in Epidemiology and Infections Biology
    Swiss Tropical Institute

  • 2005

    Bachelor of Biomedical Science
    The University of Melbourne

  • 2005

    Diploma of Music (Harpsichord)
    The University of Melbourne

Professional Experiences

  • 2012-2015

    Postdoctoral Researcher, Evolutionary Rescue and Climate Genomics

  • 2009-2012

    Freelance Science Journalist
    Various, including Cosmos and Green Lifestyle

  • 2010-2012

    Research Assistant, Bioinformatics

  • 2007-2008

    Research Assistant, Daphnia Genetics
    Zoological Institute, University of Basel, Switzerland

Achievements and Awards

  • 2012

    1st Prize, Science Faculty Three Minute Thesis Competition
    University of New South Wales

  • 2011

    Adrian Lee Travel Fellowship
    University of New South Wales

  • 2010

    Smith White Award
    Genetics Society of AustralAsia

  • 2010

    Royal Society of NSW Scholarship
    Royal Society of New South Wales

  • 2009

    Australian Postgraduate Award
    Department of Education


  • July 2014-July 2015

    Ignition Grant - Landscape genomics of Red-browed finches


We have publications by Dr Kerensa McElroy
For more publications, please see Google Scholar: F9fgRFUAAAAJ&h Researcher ID: G-1695-2013