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 5 March 2015

Wait and it will come...

I knew it would take a long time but my patience has finally been rewarded!

My incredibly tall tobacco plants, marvellous though they are, were only brought into being for one purpose: so that I could infect them with a Striga gesnerioides, the parasitic plant that is the basis of my ohD project. Because tobacco is such an accommodating host, the parasite should, in hone org, send up lots of shoots and flowers that will produce enough seed for me to complete my project!

But these things take time. So, after transplanting my tender tobacco seedlings into pots filled with parasite seed infected soil, all I could do was wait. Meanwhile, I carried on with my experiments in the lab, all the time using up my rapidly dwindling supply of Striga seed... The tobacco rocketed up to the ceiling, produced wonderfully pretty pink  and white flowers and gave me a lot of satisfaction in admiring how tall they were... But no sign of the parasite. I began to worry... If this didn't work, what could I do? Did I have time to find a new species to work on and to become familiar with its peculiarities? 

But the day came at last. Coincidentally, a colleague in the lab had just come back from a placement at FERA (Food and a Environment Research Agency) in York and I was telling her about how the tobacco plants were doing. She agreed that get were impressively tall and I lamented that, yes they looked fabulous , but they weren't doing what they were supposed to - showing signs of infection! Just then, she pointed and asked 'What's that?'

And this is what I saw:

The first shoot of Striga gesnerioides! So a happy day for me! Later my supervisor came down to see them ( unfortunately she is often so busy that I have to photograph my plants on my iPad and show those to her in meetings) and pointed out another clear sign of infection - the infected plants are noticeably more 'yellow' than their non- infected counterparts.... Can you spot the difference?


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