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!

Saturday, 27 July 2013

IUPS 2013: The closing ceremony

"...a landmark conference for various reasons..." Denis Noble, President of IUPS

How has this week gone so quickly? On Monday, I felt that it would surely take a short lifetime to work through the programme of symposia, plenaries, poster sessions...similar to the feeling I had on starting nursery school, with all those years of compulsory school education stacked up before me. Yet, here we are and I am still surprised to find that I am actually now a 20-something university student and that IUPS 2013 is nearly finished.
But there was still time to be truly inspired, as Professor Karl Deisseroth's lecture "Optical deconstruction of fully-assembled biological systems" demonstrated. The audience were treated to an impressive brain-imaging gallery produced by the novel CLARITY technique, where brain lipids are replaced with a hydrogel framework that allows super-resolution fluorescent imaging. For anyone with an interest in neuroscience, this is a hot topic to read up on. Practical applications of this stunning technique have been limited however, due to the massive data sets generated. Hence, Deisseroth moved on to describe the latest results from the more established technique of optogenetics - where the transgenic introduction of channelrhodopsin allows specific neurones to be stimulated in response to light. This is being used in an intriguing set of experiments where mice are placed in a cylinder half filled with water. At first, the mice swim vigorously as they search for an escape, then they become more quiescent; researchers are hoping to identify the neurones that mediate this transition from active to passive resistance. Preliminary results indicate that neurones of the medial prefrontal cortex are selectively inhibited during this behavioural change and that stimulating these with light can re-induce active swimming. This simple model is complicated, however, by indications that these neurones change the information they represent according to the level of dopamine. It may be that optogenetics, rather than generating straightforward answers in the immediate future, will instead reveal a further dimension of complexity...but this appears to be a reoccurring theme in biology (think of DNA and the gene-->RNA-->protein "dogma").

"...a scientific programme that has brought people from all over the world and stimulated our interest over the past five days..." Denis Noble

After the applause abated, the proceedings moved swiftly to the closing ceremony. IUPS President Denis Noble celebrated the "massive expansion of membership", including Bangladesh, Malta and Nepal. IUPS 2013 also bore the distinction of hosting the largest delegation from Africa so far and for being the first IUPS conference to receive delegates from North Korea. Reference was also made to a comment by the Nobel Laureate James Black at the 1993 IUPS conference in Glasgow that we would see "the progressive triumph of physiology over molecular biology". This might seem counter-intuitive, given the explosion in the field of genetics and molecular biology, however Denis Noble stressed that this was not predicting the replacement of the one science with the other - rather, physiology would be the medium which brought new molecular insights together into a cohesive whole. Bridgette Lumb then extended thanks to the wide number of international organisations and commercial companies who had supported the conference, giving a staggering final figure of 3068 registered attendees.

"...a great and unforgettable meeting...with an atmosphere of friendship and collaboration..."
Benedito H Machado, Organising committee for Rio 2017 "Rhythms of Life".

And then what we've all been waiting for! The grand handover - will this involve flag waving, Brazilian Samba dancers, glorious pyrotechniques? No...a rather more muted affair yet more fitting as the Brazilian organisers emphasised the importance of friendship and collaboration, and extended a sincere invitation for all to join them in Rio 2017 at "Rhythms of Life". A short video, carried throughout by a stomping Samba soundtrack, whetted the appetite with images of an exotic, dynamic city exuding charisma. Finally, the IUPS 2013 organisers gave us one last treat - a round-up movie showcasing the "best moments" of the conference including the delegates' table football skills, dance moves and drunken antics... I do hope they got that man out of the canal....

It's certainly been an experience although I feel some regret that I will probably be unable to join the conference in Rio...but I am sure that the field will have progressed into even more exciting domains by that point.

So it's goodbye from IUPS 2013!

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