Geneticist and entrepreneur Dr Carika Weldon was “shocked and very amazed” to be named a Bermudian of the Year—but anyone hearing her speak about her work would not be.

Dr Weldon radiates enthusiasm and, aged just 33, has already completed a PhD in biochemistry, worked as a research scientist at Oxford University, helped her home country fight a pandemic and launched her own genomics start-up, which has seven full-time staff and two major projects under way. “I’m just living out my dream,” she says. “I’m trying to figure things out and find my footing, so to be recognised like this is really humbling.”

Her resumé is seriously impressive, but the Bermudian of the Year accolade is especially fitting because so much of what she does is tied to her love for the island. Many will know Dr Weldon as the scientist who came back to Bermuda after COVID-19 struck, to set up and run what Premier David Burt has since described as a “world-class testing facility that is the envy of many countries worldwide.” She left the government’s Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory in 2022 and decided, rather than returning to academia, to launch her own company, raising $2 million in funding in just five months. CariGenetics is not named after her, as some have assumed, but after the Caribbean genome she wants to “unlock” to “improve health outcomes for all and protect our region from climate change.” Her background is in cancer research and one of CariGenetics’ first projects aims to identify new genetic markers of breast cancer in Caribbean women, starting in Bermuda. “All of the studies that have been done, have been done on European women,” Dr Weldon explains. The ongoing work could lead to earlier detection, better prevention strategies and more effective drugs for patients with Caribbean ancestry.

A second project involves a different kind of DNA: that of Bermuda’s national bird, the cahow, which was rediscovered in 1951 having been assumed extinct. Dr Weldon’s team completed genetic sequencing of the protected species in April in order to obtain a reference gene—the first genetic map of an organism. “No one has ever done that,” she says, explaining how the research, already being used by local conservationists, can help prevent the collapse of the cahow population.

A teenage math whiz at Warwick Academy, where she was one of the top two graduating students in 2008, Dr Weldon was expected to become an actuary. But being “behind a desk, crunching numbers” is not really her. “I’m a people person,” she says. A trailblazer for Bermuda, she describes how she chose to forge her path in genetics after attending conferences as a doctoral student and seeing that only one percent of attendees were black.

Now she’s intent on training other Bermudians in genetic testing and “being the example” she never had. “It became a big deal for me to say, ‘Let’s try to make more scientists like me.’”

See all of our Bermudians of the Year here