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 2 May 2015

Time to breathe...

This week has been a little more restful compared to the last but busy nevertheless! My growth cabinet is still broken but my plants seemed to have settled into their new home, cabinet 602, and, much to my relief, they have stopped trying to flower. This means that the cabinet settings - for short days and a colder temperature to simulate winter - are correct and my latest experiments have a chance of working!
It did make me think, however, that ( when the cabinets are behaving) my plants do have a very boring life...no sweet showers of spring rain, no spontaneous breeze to stir their leaves, no patches of shade cast by passing clouds..instead, everything controlled, fixed and the same day after day. But if they have water, nutrients, light - all that they need to survive - could they really 'want' anything else? I guess the ones I infect with Striga can't be too chuffed about that though...

Speaking of which, one of my latest experiments involves taking a 'time course' of the infection process to work out at which point the parasite successfully gains entry to the host root. This has been well documented for the parasite Striga hermonthica but not Striga gesnerioides, the species I work on and which seems to act more slowly. So every two days I have been cutting off root sections from my latest batch of infected plants and using them to prepare samples to view under the microscope later. I have so many samples now that I have had to give them all an ID and put their details into a spreadsheet so I can keep track of what time point they represent. It will take me a while to work through them all and slice them up thinly enough to examine under the microscope but hopefully I can take some good images from them to illustrate my thesis...exciting idea!

Every tube represents a sample... And I still have many more to collect!

I did manage to escape the lab for an afternoon though by heading over to a local secondary school, Westfield School, to give a presentation on 'Parasites'. This was part of the Univeristy 'Kreb's Fest', a celebratory event to be held next October to which several  participating schools have been invited. The idea is to send young researchers to each school to present a scientific topic on the theme of 'Hidden Worlds'. The pupils, inspired by the talks, then work with an artist to produce a video to be shown at the Krebs Fest. My talk was on 'The Hidden Wirkd of Parasites' and I was lucky to have been able to team up with Carly, another PhD student in the department who works on parasitic worms that infect elephants. It was heartening to meet young pupils already so interested in science and they seemed just as curious to know what being a PhD researcher is like, as they did about the parasites. On reflection, however, I don't think I had much idea at that age of how one trained to be a scientist - the gap between going to university and becoming a 'doctor' seemed very murky indeed... I had bought along some of my rhizotrons so the students could open them up to see the Striga parasite but we decided it wouldn't be very hygienic to open Carly's box of elephant poo! I'm looking forward to seeing the ideas they come up with for their video.

I have also been trying my hand at growing something new for a change... Parsley! Having signed up to Sheffield University's recent 'Big Herb Giveaway', I was able to collect some seeds and compost for free. I wasn't very confident as, outside of my growth cabinets I don't have very 'green fingers', but I found a nice sunny spot in the kitchen much to my surprise, they germinated! Given that I love fish so much, I am hoping they will develop into healthy, bushy adult plants which u can use to supplement my dinners!
Growing something new...

That's all for now - hope you have a great a Bank Holiday weekend. As for me, I will be in the lab most of Monday, infecting the next lot of unwilling Arabidopsis hosts...

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