Danila Marini (they/them) always wanted to work with animals. But they didn’t know what that looked like beyond a vet or a zookeeper. It wasn’t until they visited an agricultural college, and saw animal scientists in action, they could visualise a science career.
“My brain just went, ahh that is so cool! You get to ask questions, set up experiments and then answer them. And, at the same time, you get to help animals,” Danila said.
Danila has Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Danila was easily distracted and said they weren’t very good at school. But they found university a much easier environment to work and learn. Danila thinks being an “Aspie” has helped them to always want to find out more. To want to learn more, ask more questions, look at things differently.
“The way people see the world depends on your upbringing or neurodiversity. People with autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) look into detail a lot more and notice something and might come up an alternative to answer or solve a problem.”
Danila also thinks animals are easier to understand than people.
“A lot of autistic people have a special interest. Animals are mine.”
Are ewe ok?
At CSIRO, Danila works on managing relief of pain in castration and tale docking for lambs. The team have registered a pain relief medication and Danila is making sure it is effective.
Danila is an animal behaviour and welfare scientist. Specifically, they study lambs and ensure research doesn’t negatively impact them.
They are also working on a virtual fencing project for sheep. A virtual fence keeps animals away from areas such as delicate waterways and areas farmers want to grow crops.
Virtual fencing is currently used for cattle. Cows are fitted with a collar that uses GPS coordinates to put a barrier in front of the animal. As they approach the barrier the collar emits a sound. If the animal keeps walking, the collar lets off an electrical stimulus that keeps them in.
Danila and their team are investigating the use of virtual fencing for sheep.
“Using the sound and stimulus, we are making sure the sheep can learn properly so that what we are doing isn’t negatively impacting the animal.”
A diverse approach to animal science
Danila has found during their research that a lot of pain research in animals is done on male species.
"The way females experience pain is different. Hormones impact the immune system and your immune system impacts the way we experience stress,” Danila said.
“You need diversity in research. When you look at agriculture, a lot of the animals are female. We don’t know if the drugs affect females in the same way they affect males. Or whether the procedures we do on females impacts them more than they do males.
“Diversity leads to innovative science,” they said.
Rolling the rural roads
Danila works at our Chiswick site in Armidale, New South Wales. Armidale is a regional city about halfway between Brisbane and Sydney.
But Danila didn’t grow up on a farm and is a long way from home. They aren’t used to the cold and miss their sunshine and beaches. But since arriving in Armidale, Danila found an unexpected new hobby. Danila has fallen in love with roller skating.
“I joined roller derby. There was no roller derby team in Armidale for a while, so I just roller skated around Armidale with a friend,” Danila said.
“We have enough people for a team now and training will begin in the next couple of weeks. The new team will compete in the New England Roller Derby League. There are a lot of small teams around the Port Macquarie and Muswellbrook areas. Everyone travels around to compete.”
Is an animal science career in your future?
Danila’s advice to future researchers; “There are always ways to get into science”.
“Always jump at opportunities. Put your hand up. See how things work. You never know if it’s going to be for you unless you try it," Danila said.
“If something isn’t working for you…ask for advice. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice from scientist. They are a helpful bunch of people. Also, persist and work hard.
“Find something that you love to work on. I think it’s particularly important in science and research. You always want to be working on something that means a lot and you are really interested in.”
Find out more about Managing pain relief in sheep tail docking and castration.