Research into the Bluff oyster could help to boost the wild population which was ravaged by a parasitic disease during the 1980s and 1990s.
Zoe Hilton from the Cawthron Institute in Nelson is one of 15 women worldwide to be awarded a Fellowship for Young Women in the Life Sciences, which will take her to Spain to continue her shellfish research.
Dr Hilton is investigating selective breeding of European and New Zealand flat oysters. The New Zealand species is the Bluff oyster.
She says the aim of the research is to find and breed oysters resistant to the biggest threat to the shellfish population, bonamia, a parasite that attacks mature shellfish.
Dr Hilton says that if the natural stock is not conserved, then the population might shrink, which can lead to inbreeding and a loss of resilience.
She says selective breeding allows the choosing of traits such as disease resistance or resilience to temperature stress.
Dr Hilton is the third Cawthron Institute scientist to win the award, which is a joint initiative by UNESCO and L'Oreal.