Dr Jaye Moors: “lets increase our Pacific presence in science and change the world”


Otago University’s first Biochemistry PHD, Dr Jaye Moors, is the daughter of Setefano and Christina Moors of Sala’ilua, Vailoa Palauli is calling to increase pacific presence in science to change the world. 

In an exclusive interview with Radio Polynesia, Dr Moors said when she found out about being Otago’s first Pacific PhD in Biochemistry, while its an honour but hopes she is not Otago’s first and last.

“There is a huge underrepresentation of Pacific scientists, and most certainly Pacific scholars, around the globe and we need to change that. “The statistics are improving, albeit slowly. So it is my hope that this story may raise awareness and inspiration to many Pacific people out there. 

“The truth is, if I, a lowly Samoan from Savai’I can do it, so can you! There is so much power in being Pacific in these spaces – so let’s increase our Pacific presence in the sciences and change the world.” 

Dr Moors who graduated last week, said biochemistry is such an amazing field. Hard, but amazing. 

“I’ve always been interested in the sciences. It started in high school in Samoa – I had excellent science teachers who piqued my interest in the sciences. Fortunately, on top of my interest, I was also good at it, so naturally – I stuck to what I knew.

“At University, I started by studying the gross anatomy of the human body for my undergraduate degree. 

“Although fascinating, I was a little more interested in human disease, so I moved from gross to molecular biology and studied the genetics of cardiometabolic disease in Māori and Pacific people, under the great mentorship of Professor Tony Merriman (now of University of Alabama) and Associate Professor Mele Taumoepeau (now of the University of Victoria, Wellington).

“Findings from my PhD identified a Polynesian-specific variant of the Cholesterol-ester transferase protein (CETP), involved in cholesterol metabolism. 

“The variant associated with an increase in ‘good cholesterol’ (HDL-C) and a decrease in the ‘bad cholesterol’ (LDL-C) in Polynesian people. 

“Our findings also showed that increased alcohol consumption in Pacific teenagers is associated with increased BMI, which in turn is associated with well-established risk factors for metabolic disease. “It’s exciting to be able to contribute these findings to the knowledge gap in the sciences. And it’s a little more personal for me, as my work is for Pacific by Pacific,” she said. 

Adding that she’s enthusiastic about this whole idea of using genetics in order to identify genes that are important in disease, especially in understudied indigenous populations. 

“The next step is to continue to do well in my research career in my work with Variant Bio – a Seattle-based genomics company that aims to improve global health by studying the genetics of underrepresented individuals and populations with medically relevant traits.” 

Dr Moors told Radio Polynesia while the journey has been challenging her success is attributed to the example, sacrifice and hard work of her parents and siblings. 

“I wouldn’t be here if it were for their love and unending support! I am very lucky to have been supported by my family, brilliant supervisors and mentors, my department as well as an excellent circle of friends. 

E le fa’agaloina fo’I le tapua’iga mamana a lo’u nana I Samoa. Ua maea! Fa’amalo fai tatalo. Malo le tapua’i. Vi’ia le Silisili Ese!”