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!

Monday 22 December 2014

Can't see the roots for the trees.... and an update on POST

It's been a busy few days as the lab prepares for the great annual "Shutdown".... watering rotas, last orders, cleaning down benches... fortunately my second supervisor has kindly offered to water my plants over the Christmas Period itself so I can snatch a few days in Solihull with my family.

Meanwhile, I have been trying to perfect my rhizotron systems before I start working on valuable mutant lines. My main problem at the moment is that it is essential to see the roots of my little seedlings in order to measure the extent of parasite infection. But Arabidopsis plants have white roots... and I grow them on a delicate white mesh to stop the roots from penetrating into the growth medium (if they stay on the surface, it is easier to infect them with parasites).  Trying to analyse the photos gives me a headache so I have been trying a few alternatives. Attempting to dye the roots had some effect (see below) but this isn't really suitable as it could have an adverse consequence on the parasites, influencing the results. Dying the mesh didn't really work either so my first supervisor made a trip to that great supplier of scientific materials ... John Lewis! But the dark-coloured mesh she found there could be just the thing and I have just sown a new batch of seedlings which will be the guinea pigs to try this on. Watch this space!

White roots on White mesh... tricky

Arabidopsis roots dyed with Toluidine Blue

For those that read the  Post  "POST me a note as fast as you can..." (published on 23rd November), I am afraid that I am no longer in the POSTNote competition as my team literally disintegrated! Pressures of deadlines and experiments (in one case, even a Viva to prepare for) forced my teammates to pull out until I was the last one standing. As the competition is designed as a team effort, the organisers suggested it would be best if I withdrew. But with the amount of things that have been going on just recently, perhaps it is just as well...
The new Black Mesh - from a reputable supplier of scientific equipment!

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