It is with great pleasure that I can announce a new category on this blog: Plant Cell Alumni!
This series will feature interviews with people who at one point were active plant cell researchers, but are now doing something different. I hope to highlight the vast variety of possibilites open to plant scientists, no matter if they decided to change fields, to work in a science-related job or left science completely. If you would like to participate, please drop me an email and I will send you further instructions.
I am incredibly lucky in that our research group is not only tolerant of my crazy science outreach ideas, but whole-heartedly embraces and develops them. When we started thinking about activities for the “International Fascination of Plants Day“, our PhD student Alessandra told me this funny story. She had gone to bed and just before falling asleep suddenly got the idea for this project. She sat upright and thought “I have to tell Anne immediately!” But her computer was already switched off and her mobile phone was too far away. So she decided that it had to wait until the next day. Just for her enthusiasm I wanted to give her a hug! When I heard her idea, I immediately got excited as well.
We had been thinking about hands-on activities to engage children with plant cells. Alessandra came up with the idea of a plant cell marble maze. Or, to be correct, a plant endomembrane system marble maze.
Working together with the Didcot Girls’ School Science Club was one of the best experiences I have had so far in my research career. Their enthusiasm and excitement was infectious and it forced me take a step back and look at my research with different eyes. All of them want to go to university and I am absolutely sure that each of them would be a great scientist if they wanted to pursue that career direction.
Tau is one of several types of microtubule-associated proteins (MAPs) which regulate the assembly and stability of microtubule networks. Although microtubule networks exist in all kinds of animal and plant cells, Tau is present only in neurons and predominantly localized in axons. This unique feature suggests that Tau may have neuron-specific functions.
Visiting the many different flower shows whilst researching The Flora, I was struck by the way the pansies were displayed – they are arranged separately in trays, not as the usual bunch of flowers in a vase, but just the heads placed poking out of a board on a tray – why? I like to think that it really makes you look carefully at the difference in each wonderful flower head; but I suspect it may be because one of the criteria for a show pansy is to try to grow the petals to form a perfect circle. Then “heads” and “pansy faces” came together in my mind, so I started to photograph the trays at all the shows I visited, as you can see below the standard of presentation is often patchy and there seems to be no attempt at colour co-ordination!
Magnetosomes are little membrane bound particles which are found in certain bacteria. These particles contain magnetite crystals which, as well as making them sound like very small X-men, allow the bacteria to line up in the direction of the earth’s geomagnetic field, essentially acting like a compass. Why this is helpfully is not entirely certain, but it may give help to give the bacteria a sense of direction while searching for a suitable environment in which to live.
My research is on chromosome structure and function. For many years it was called cytogenetics, but nowadays the name has been changed so much that I don’t know how I should call it (laugh!), chromosome biology, cytogenomics, anything else. We focus on how chromosomes works during the cell cycle, mitosis and meiosis division, as well as studying their number, morphology, comparing different species – comparative genomics. This information is important for plant breeding which produces our food.
As I am in a tropical region with tremendous biodiversity, we need to help other researchers to characterize the karyotype (chromosome number and morphology) of different species. I have been working with sugarcane, alfalfa, maize (corn), cotton, eucalyptus, crotalaria and several other species.
Yesterday I participated as facilitator in the Science Communication Training Day 2012 for doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers, which was organised by the Biochemical Society, Society of Experimental Biology and British Ecological Society. It was a brilliant day and Antonia Desmond wrote a lovely summary about the day for the BiochemSoc Blog. I won’t repeat this but rather comment on some of the key points and questions we discussed and add my own thoughts.
Have you ever wondered how to pen a piece of arboreal balladry? How to get under the skin of a 4,800 year old Californian bristlecone pine? Well now you can, with this handy tutorial, recorded with student of treesong Hayley Bennett from Geek Pop.