Helen Withers


Helen is currently a Senior Advisor (Microbiology) in the Science Risk Assessment Team which is part of the Biosecurity Science, Food Science and Risk Assessment Directorate, Regulation and Assurance Branch at the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI).

Helen completed her undergraduate studies in food microbiology at the Department of Microbiology and Genetics at Massey University before heading to the UK. She gained her PhD in Molecular Biology at the Department of Genetics, Cambridge University, studying plasmid stability and the role of site specific recombination in that process. From there she moved to Uppsala University in Sweden, where she was a post doctoral researcher investigating the role of regulatory RNA in the control DNA replication. After 5 years in Sweden she returned to the UK to take up a Medical Research Council (MRC) Career Development Fellowship at Nottingham University to study bacterial communication (quorum sensing) and its impact on the control of the bacterial cell cycle, particularly DNA regulation. She returned to New Zealand in 2003 as a lecturer in the Department of Molecular Medicine and Pathology at Auckland University; and after a few years moved to AgResearch at Ruakura and then on to the Hopkirk Research Centre in Palmerston North as a Senior Scientist. Here, Helen’s research focussed on food safety and in particular on shiga-toxin producing Escherichia coli (STEC) and their association with cattle. In 2013, she moved to MPI and continues to support the food sector, particularly the meat industry.