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!

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Every PhD has ups and downs...and this is surely a down...

In the fridge next to my lab, there is a very special glass vial. It contains seed of the parasitic plant Striga gesnerioides - a major pest in sub-Saharan Africa and the focus of my PhD project. 
And it is the only vial of seed we have in the lab. My problem: it is running out fast.

Research scientists aim to preempt such problems like these. Hence, several months ago, I transplanted some young tobacco seedlings into pots of soil infested with S. gesnerioides. The idea was that the parasite would infest the tobacco, send up a forest of flowering shoots and produce enough seed to see me through to the end of my PhD. First signs were hopeful, with one or two flowering Striga shoots emerging from the soil ( see the post ' Wait and it will come'). 
But then... Nothing. No more shoots. I began to panic - was this it? Were these few shoots just extremely early and it was only a matter of time before the rest emerged? But then the few shoots that had appeared shrivelled to nothing, turned black and died. So here I am , months later in the same position,with no new seed. 

What happened? My supervisor has two main theories. The first: the pots the tobacco plants were planted in were too small, so the roots would have been compacted together so densely, that the parasitic shoots wouldn't be able to force their way through. Second: the tobacco plants didn't get enough nutrients so couldn't supply the parasite with enough sugars to fuel reproductive growth. Thirdly, it is simple too hot in the greenhouse!

So tobacco two, the next generation, are ready for another go. This time I will be planting them in a peat/ sand mixture, to hopefully encourage the roots to grow in a looser network, making it easier for the parasite to emerge. I will also be growing them in a smaller conviron growth chamber, rather than the greenhouse chamber, and supply them a special nutrient solution.

Fingers crossed! In my works at least, there is a lot at stake!  

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