Meet the Doctoral Researcher – Physiology & Biochemistry

Meet the Doctoral Researcher – Physiology & Biochemistry


Hi I’m Joanna Vella. My doctoral studies are in population and forensic genetics, and medical genetics, within the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery. I am tracing the origins of the Maltese, by investigating maternal and paternal ancestry. I am doing this by studying the lineage markers: Mitochondrial DNA — which is inherited maternally — and the Y chromosome — which is inherited paternally. I’m also researching the genetics of mitochondrial disorders which are considered to be rare diseases. To date there is no reference Maltese population data on publicly available lineage marker databases, and my research will contribute to these databases. We will have a high quality population database that could be used as a reference in population and forensic genetic studies. And also casework, including the identification of missing persons. We will also have a better understanding of the genetics causing mitochondrial disorders and this will hopefully aid in making a genetic diagnosis for some of the patients. The Faculty of Medicine and Surgery gave me the opportunity to further my studies and knowledge in the field of genetics. I presented some of my findings at international conferences such as, the International Society of Forensic Genetics. in Seoul, South Korea, last year. Also, the European Society of Human Genetics in Milan, and the Haploid Markers meeting in Poland. This doctoral degree has allowed me to meet world experts in the field such as, Professor Walther Parson and his team from the Medical University of Innsbruck – he’s my co-supervisor on the project. And also, Professor Lutz Rauer and his team from Charité in Berlin. The doctoral degree provided me with transferable skills that I can use in the future.

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