Wonder Women In Science (WWIS)

Decoding the DNA of a Future Geneticist

To commemorate National Science Week and National Women’s Month, the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science is honouring its female scientists through a Wonder Women In Science (WWIS) campaign.

These women are passionate, pioneering and persistent heroines who are advancing science in their diverse fields.

The year’s WWIS candidate from the School of Life Sciences is Genetics student, Ms Devina Chetty.

Chetty’s interest in science was sparked in primary school while learning about caterpillars and how they transformed into butterflies. ‘I was fascinated by it all in the early years of primary school and wanted to know what else science had to offer,’ she recalls.

Her love for Life Sciences followed her into UKZN where she pursued a Bachelor of Science degree, being chosen as the best third-year student in Genetics for 2018, earning herself the coveted MERCK Award. She graduated summa cum laude with majors in Genetics and Cell Biology.

Chetty is now pursuing her Honours degree, conducting research on the evolutionary history of a species of earthworm. ‘I am doing a phylogenetic analysis of an earthworm family called Kazimierzidae to infer their evolutionary history and relationships.’

Chetty says she marvels at what she has learned during her studies, including the fact that the environment plays a big role in determining one’s phenotype (individual characteristics).  ‘DNA is not everything.’

She tries to find a balance between her studies and social life. ‘I make time for things that are important to me such as: my family, my partner, my faith and keeping healthy.’

As a woman, Chetty is aware of the gender discrimination women encounter in the workplace.
‘I feel that as women, we not always taken seriously or treated as equals to men. Our value and abilities are underestimated,’ said Chetty.

Chetty feels that by marginalising women scientists, the industry is losing out on their unique talents. ‘Tenacity, motivation, a strong work ethic and consistency are special offerings women usually bring to science fields. We should embrace them and welcome their talents.’

She encourages women facing such challenges to see their own potential. ‘Keep working hard and aspire to great things. You may just surprise yourself with what you’re able to achieve,’ she said.

Chetty, who feels that there is much to look forward to in a career in science, says the discipline is constantly expanding, making work very exciting and current.

Chetty would like to be remembered for her determination to succeed while displaying consistent integrity and passion. As a scientist, her work exists at a microscopic level but its potential impact is much larger.

All of our Wonder Women in Science could easily be undercover superheroes, so here is some inside info on the kind of superhero we’ve found in Devina:

Q. What would you super power be and why?
A. I would like to possess the ability to cure any illness or ailment because the world is in dire need of healing.


Q. What would be your theme song?
A. Heal the World by Michael Jackson.


Q. What would your superhero gadget be and why?
A. I would prefer not relying on a tool, in case I forget to bring it with me.

Q. Who would be in your “all-star team” to take on the world?
A. Mahatma Gandhi, Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa.


Q. Where would your secret lair/ hideout be?
A. It’s a secret!


Q. What is your kryptonite (weakness)?
A. Chocolate

Words and Photography: Mr Sashlin Girraj