Hello and welcome to my blog! My name is Caroline and I am a PhD student at the University of Sheffield. My research project focuses on Striga - a genus of parasitic plants that devastates harvests by infecting food crops. I am exploring the defence reactions that can make host plants more resistant against Striga. Due to my ongoing battles with anorexia, I haven't made as much progress as I would have liked but I am determined to finish the course.

This blog charts the ups and downs of life in the lab, plus my dreams to become a science communicator and forays into public engagement and science policy....all while trying to keep my mental and physical health intact. Along the way, I'll also be sharing new plant science stories, and profiles of some of the researchers who inspire me on this journey. So whether you have a fascination for plants, are curious about what science research involves, or just wonder what exactly I do all day, read on - I hope you find it entertaining!

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Gatsby Plants Annual Network Meeting Thursday 5th-Friday 6th September 2013

Another year, another highly enjoyable meeting of the Gatsby Plants Network. Held over two days,  this year at Queen's College Oxford, the event allows students supported by the Gatsby Plants Charity to present their research to Gatsby mentors and alumni. I am very grateful to the Gatsby Trust for funding one of my previous summer placements (investigating components of the temperature sensing signalling pathway in Arabidopsis with Dr Phillip Wigge at the John Innes Centre) which helped to convince me that plant science research was my dream career. The charity also does much to promote plant science education at secondary school and A Level through the online Gatsby Tree, which provides a wealth of teaching resources. For any teachers reading this, I highly recommend that you see this! http://www.gatsbyplants.leeds.ac.uk/tree.2.0/gatsby_tree.php?theme=null

I found the experience particularly valuable this year as the talks allowed me to gauge what the Gatsby supported PhD students had achieved after one year, two years or even three/ four years. This helped to give me an idea of the rate of progress expected from me when I start my PhD in October. The stand-out talk for me however, was given by Professor Hagen Bailey, of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Oxford. Completely eschewing a plant science theme, he described how "nanopore" technology could revolutionise DNA sequencing. This technique involves introducing membrane pores based on alpha-hemolysin from Staphyloccus into a chip, and feeding DNA through these channels. By incorporating a nuclease which cleaves off bases one by one as the DNA strand emerges or inserting a base reader into the channel itself, the sequence can be read. This avoids the need for using fluorescent bases (required for most sequencing methods) and can be fashioned into arrays with thousands of pores, ultimately capable of sequencing the human genome in 10 minutes. Given that this would be the equivalent of reading a thousand copies of War and Peace, this is quite impressive! Professor Hagen also described how these pores could be used to connect aqueous droplets to form "minimal tissues", which could have potential in organ enhancement or replacement. An intriguing diversion from plant science and an exciting topic to follow in the future...

I must confess that I do enjoy the "Oxford experience" that the meeting gives me - staying in quirky college rooms (no piano this time, but still lots of random doors and a fireplace), listening to the clock bells chiming out over the city at night, the formal evening dinner... I did feel sorry for the vegetarians this year however, who instead of being served "prawn and avocado cocktail" had to make do with "avocado...and more avocado ". I'm already looking forward to the next meeting, and who knows? Perhaps I will be presenting something myself...
 Plant Scientists networking over dinner in the dining room at Queen's College, Oxford
Queen's College, Oxford by night