Liz Murchison

Favourite Thing: Field work – travelling around Tasmania trapping Tasmanian devils.



1985-6 St Oswald’s Infant School, 1986-9 Applecross Primary School, 1990-1991 Taroona Primary School, 1992-1998 St Michael’s Collegiate School, Hobart, Tasmania


University of Melbourne, Australia 1999-2002, Genetics; PhD at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, New York, USA

Work History:

I worked for a few months at the Australian National University before I came to the Sanger Institute


Cancer genetics and genomics

Area of Research:

Tasmanian devil cancer

Find out more:

Me and my work

I am trying to save Tasmanian devils from a contagious cancer.

Tasmanian devils are in danger of going extict because of an infectious cancer that is spreading through their population. The cancer is spread by biting and causes tumours to grow on the face and inside the mouth of affected devils. The disease is always fatal and usually kills affected devils within a few months. I am sequencing the DNA from the devils’ cancer to find the mutations that caused the disease. Ultimately I hope that my work will lead to a cure or vaccine for the disease.

My Typical Day

I spend my time staring at mutations in devil DNA.

On a typical day I might extract some DNA from devil tumours, prepare the DNA for sequencing, analyse my results on the computer, read some papers describing recent findings from other scientists and prepare some slides for an upcoming talk.

Genome sequencing and my research

Genome sequencing allows me to find all of the mutations in the devil cancer in one go.

The difficult part starts after I have sequenced the genomes…. I have to work out which mutations are important and which ones are irrelevant for the disease. Cancers tend to have thousands of mutations, but only a tiny number of these actually cause the cancer.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Busy. Busy. Busy.

What music do you have on your iPod?

Lady Gaga, Irish folk music, Gypsy Kings

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Night swimming in the ocean with phosphorescent jellyfish

What do you like to do away from work?

Search the Tasmanian bush for devils (I’m a workaholic…)

What did you want to be after you left school?

A vet. But I changed my mind when I learnt about genetics.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

I remember one time getting in trouble for chasing people with nettles.

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Setting the lab on fire.

Tell us a joke.

I bought a box of animal biscuits and it said on it “Do not eat if seal is broken.” So I opened up the box, and sure enough…