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 2 November 2014

The gentle art of tweaking...and an update on Green Tea

My seedlings aren't growing too well... from the amount of seed that I sowed, I should have a veritable little forest of happy little Arabidopsis. Instead, I have at the most thirty healthy plants, the rest weedy, shrivelled or simply vanished. So I will have to curtail my first experiment a little and try and figure out how to improve the chances of the next lot.

Unfortunately, research (at least with living organisms) is rarely a case of simply drafting a hypothesis, planning an experiment to investigate it and then just DOING it. So much time (especially for PhD students) is spent fiddling with different conditions, trying to coddle their model organism of choice into growing or doing what is required. In my case, I need my seedlings to be robust enough to survive being transplanted into the rhizotrons where I can infect them with the Striga parasite. My first suspect is the wind speed in the growing chamber - I can see the poor seedlings trembling with each blast of air and Arabidopsis is known for not liking wind. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to adjust the settings on the Conviron cabinet so my supervisor has said she will help me construct a windbreak! If that doesn't help, I will try altering the compost and also the vernalisation period - Arabidopsis seeds only germinate if they have been exposed to the cold (which allows seeds to remain dormant over winter) so we "wake them up" by putting them in the fridge for 48 hours. Perhaps this isn't long enough?

Meanwhile, following on from my previous post ("Ask for Evidence"), I have been investigating the merits of Green Tea. It turns out that there IS quite a bit of scientific evidence that drinking green tea could help prevent Alzheimer's. The disease is caused by accumulations of beta-amyloid protein which form plaques that cause neurodegeneration. Compounds in green tea called catechins, however, are thought to inhibit this process. Specifically, epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) prevents copper and zinc ions from binding to amyloid proteins, which prevents plaque formation. In a transgenic mouse model engineered to display early-onset Alzheimer's, animals that received EGCG performed better in learning/memory tasks (such as finding a hidden platform in a water tank) and had fewer deposits of amyloid plaques in the brain. Even more amazingly, a further study found that, besides countering neuronal decay, EGCG can actually promote the generation of new neurones in the hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with converting short-term memories to long-term ones).

So if you want to raise a glass to your health, make it Green Tea! Cheers!

For more information see:


Epigallocatechin-3-Gallate ameliorates learning and memory deficits by adjusting the balance of TrkA/p75NTR signaling in APP/PS1 transgenic mice. Molecular Neurobiology, December 2013

Green tea epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) promotes neural progenitor cell proliferation and sonic hedgehog pathway activation during adult hippocampal neurogenesis. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, August 2012

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