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Lisa Matisoo-Smith

Lisa Matisoo-Smith

Biological anthropologist

Lisa Matisoo-Smith felt like she was returning to her Pacific roots when she fell in love with a kiwi and moved to New Zealand in the 1980s, because although she had lived in Japan and the mainland United States, she was born in Hawai‘i.1 Matisoo-Smith joined the Auckland University anthropology department just as DNA technology was developing, and was able to begin following her interests into human evolution, variation and history.

She began by studying the DNA of the kiore, or Pacific rat, which travelled with the first Pacific migrants to New Zealand. Matisoo-Smith has now spent many decades using DNA to map human migration and runs a lab at the University of Otago. Major projects include research into the origins of the first New Zealanders, evidence of Polynesian contact in South America and a study of the genetic ancestry of New Zealanders.


1. “Lisa Matisoo-Smith: From Africa to Aotearoa,” E-Tangata - A Māori and Pasifika Sunday magazine, March 12, 2017, https://e-tangata.co.nz/news/lisa-matisoosmith-from-africa-to-aotearoa.

This profile is part of the series 150 Women in 150 Words that celebrates women’s contributions to expanding knowledge in New Zealand, running as part of our 150th Anniversary.