About the authors, past and present

Erica Hawkins

I’m a third year PhD student working at both the John Innes centre and the University of East Anglia and UEA. I split my time between the lab of Cathie Martin at the JIC, and Jelena Gavrilovic at the UEA, where I am investigating the potential health benefits associated with natural health promoting compounds produced in tomato.

Before starting my PhD I completed an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry at Lancaster University, and a Masters of Research in Molecular Microbiology. Until starting at the JIC I had little to do with plant science, so I have had quite a lot to learn in my first year! But now, I am a complete plant science convert. You can also follow me on twitter if you fancy (@EricaHawkins16)

Mabon Elis

I’m a third year PhD student in Enrico Coen’s lab at JIC. I’m looking at the role bumblebees play in causing the evolution of genomic islands in snapdragons. These are parts of the snapdragon genome that are very different in one population compared to another, nearby population. I’m using experiments on the bees’ learning to see how they might be affecting the plants’ flower colour evolution.

I’m originally from north Wales, and studied plant science at Manchester before coming to the John Innes Centre for a master’s degree and then a PhD.

You can find more of my writing in Concrete or you can follow me on Twitter: @mabonrhun

Nicola Capstaff

I am a second year PhD student at the John Innes Centre in Metabolic Plant Biology. My project in the Sanders/Miller lab focuses on nitrogen use efficiency in forage crops and is in association with the BBSRC and the British Association of Green Crop Driers (BAGCD).

From having no previous experience with communicating with farmers I have already found the dialogue between research and agriculture a struggle. I decided to try to change this through blogging about Science and its associated issues, but in a context that may be appreciated by the wider farming community.

My own blog can be found at outplantish.wordpress.com and I’m on twitter as @NicolaCapstaff. I’m also a STEM ambassador and the JSV welfare officer.

Claire Drurey

I’m Claire, a(nother) PhD student at the John Innes centre. I work in the lab of Saskia Hogenhout, looking at plant-aphid interactions. We’ve found that aphids induce a plant defense response in much the same way that plant pathogens do, and I’m working to explore this further. It’s an interesting lab to work in as I get to study both plant immunity and entomology (insect science), though this can be quite a handful at times! When I’m not spending time with plants or aphids, you’ll find me running, being a leader at my local Brownie pack or watching anything I can get my hands on on BBC iPlayer. I also enjoy following science policy and public engagement of science, often via twitter (@ClaireDrurey).

Matt Evans

Hi, I’m Matt! I am a PhD student in the ‘lab’ of Richard Morris, in the Computational and Systems Biology department. Unusually for a member of the John Innes Centre, my undergraduate degree was in Physics! In fact, before starting my PhD, I hadn’t studied Biology since I was 16, so I’ve had quite a lot to learn in the last couple of years. My research is based around the use of mathematics and physics, along with the assistance of computer-based simulations, to understand biological systems. In particular, my work is focussed around calcium signalling, in which dynamic changes of calcium concentration can be used to encode and transmit signals within and between plant cells. Its fantastic stuff! I hope my posts will bring a slightly different perspective on the world of plant biology. Check me out on Twitter: @mattjevans42

Gabriella Everett

My name is Gabi and I’m an MSc Student here at the John Innes Centre. I’m doing my research project in Cristobal Uauy’s lab, with fine-mapping a gene in wheat that alters the leaf’s waxy phenotype. Although I am a UK national, I was raised in Brazil, where I studied Biology at the University of São Paulo.

I’m especially interested in plant genetic resources policies and conservation, and I really enjoy talking and writing about that! How plant resources are used and managed has a great impact on food security and sustainable agriculture around the world, so it is a very exciting field. In my free time I enjoy reading, cooking, playing video games with friends and watching Star Trek.

Rowena Fung

Hi, I’m Rowena! Together with the rest of the bloggers from this site, I’m a PhD student working at The John Innes Centre in Norwich. So, a little about how I ended up here which differs slightly to most students: firstly I did my undergraduate degree at The University of Birmingham where I specialised in microbiology with a bit of genetics which I am also interested in. Following my degree, I decided to do a research masters (MRes) in molecular microbiology at The University of Nottingham, and this was investigating the signalling molecule that I am currently doing my PhD in. After my masters degree, I decided that having a little bit of money would be nice, so a job in science and working in a lab would be good, and after many job applications I began working for The University of Oxford as a research assistant working on hospital acquired infections. Although I enjoyed this, I always wanted to further my career and have my own project so I applied for a PhD, and here I am at The John Innes Centre, and as the saying goes, the rest is history! As you might have already guessed, I am interested in microbiology and manipulating the genomes of bacteria, so working in the Molecular Microbiology department suits me just fine. To put it simply, I work on a soil bacterium and the signalling processes which allow them to interact with plants and in so doing help them promote plant growth. It may seem that my life revolves around science and work, but honestly that is not the case. Outside of work I enjoy going to the theatre and the cinema, as well as relaxing with friends, but then who doesn’t? Plus to satisfy my geeky side, I do like to go science museums and the like every now and then…

Rachel Goddard

I’m Rachel and I’m a student in the Crop Genetics department. I’m originally from Yorkshire and did my undergraduate degree in Genetics at the University of Leeds where I looked at homologous recombination in the model organism Physcomitrella patens.  At JIC I work in the Nicholson lab, where we study the resistance mechanisms of cereals to various facultative pathogens through a combination of both lab and field trial work. My PhD investigates the genetic basis of resistance of a heritage malting barley variety to Fusarium Head Blight, which is a major small grain cereal disease, and how this resistance might affect agronomic traits such as malting quality. Outside of the lab (or field) I enjoy listening to music, watching films and spending time with friends.

Benjamin Hall

Hailing from Sunderland in the North East of England, I completed my bachelor’s degree in Biology at the University of Leeds where I studied the role of a co-repressor complex crucial for flower development in A. thaliana in various other plant processes. I have also previously spent time at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, Tuebingen, where I was interested in the interplay between microRNAs and Gibberellic acid in the regulation of key developmental processes in A. thaliana. Not wanting to get bogged down in developmental biology so early on, Idecided on a change of direction and began a PhD in Plant Pathology at the John Innes Centre, in Mark Banfield’s group, where I am studying the interactions between pathogen-secreted effector proteins and their host targets in order to better understand how the late blight pathogen P. infestans infects and kills potatoes. I have previously written for the Leeds Student and blogged, on occasion, for various websites. In addition to this, I used to write search engine optimisation blogs and copy covering topics as diverse as gambling, health products and DIY, work I would now describe as ‘soul destroying’.

Jo Harrison

Hi, my name is Jo Harrison and I am a second year PhD student in the department of Biological Chemistry at the John Innes Centre. For this year (2012 – 2013) I am also the Chair of the Student Voice Committee here at JIC, which means I get to represent student issues on various committees, organise careers events, organise a student networking conference and organise socials! I am a fairly recent convert to plant sciences – at school I never really found it that exciting, and when I went to Cambridge to study Natural Sciences I always thought I would end up studying something like genetics or psychology in my final year. But, because of the flexible nature of the course I got to try a module of plant and microbial science and I discovered how interesting I found it.I am now studying root nodulation signalling in the model plant Medicago truncatula alongside several labs at JIC which also work on different aspects of this pathway. Root nodulation is an example of a beneficial root symbiosis and from this the plant gains fixed nitrogen from bacteria present in the root nodules. We hope to better understand how this pathway functions in legume plants, with the eventual aim of being able to engineer nitrogen fixation into important crop plants. You can find me on twitter @jkdharrison

Kirsty Jackson

My name is Kirsty Jackson. I grew up in South East London, UK and moved to Edinburgh, UK to do my undergraduate studies. I changed my field of study a few times but finally settled on Plant Sciences. I graduated in 2010 with a 2:1 and moved straight to the John Innes Centre to take up a PhD studying the beneficial Legume symbioses of nodulation and mycorrhization following a love of all things fungal. I am now looking at the roles of two receptor-like cytoplasmic kinases within the symbiosis signalling pathway. I’m also keen to participate in all sorts of science communication such as social media, events, talks and blogs. In my spare time I like to dance (Ceroc and Lindy-hop/swing), skate, draw and attempt to play the ukulele!

Richard Payne

I’m a second year PhD student, in the lab of Prof Sarah O’Connor in Biological chemistry. Originally from the south east coast of the UK in Kent, I studied Biochemistry in Oxford and specialised in starch and sucrose metabolism in tubers in my final year. I’m interested in all things metabolism, and in particular I’m currently working on the specialised metabolism of Madagascar periwinkle. This little plant produces two actively used chemotherapeutic agents, and the goal of the lab is to try and understand how the plant makes them, and whether other systems such as yeast and tobacco can be engineered to produce them in higher quantities or with novel functional chemistry. Outside the lab I enjoy getting involved with public engagement of science, as well as the yearly inter-departmental football tournament at the John Innes Centre.

Annis Richardson

I am originally from Shropshire, England and grew up in the countryside (probably where I started to get an interest in biology!).  I moved to Cambridge in 2008 to do my undergraduate degree in Biological Natural Sciences where, to my surprise, I discovered an interest in Plant Sciences (I thought that I was going to be a zoologist when I started my degree). I graduated in 2011 and moved east to Norwich where I am now studying for my PhD at JIC. I am a 2nd year PhD student working in Professor Enrico Coen’s lab. I study how shape is formed in plants, particularly looking at the leaves and flowers of grasses and cereal crops (especially Barley and Maize). We aim to eventually understand the underlying mechanism behind how shape is formed in plants and how conserved it is in evolution (i.e. whether all plants use the same mechanism). (Check out our lab website for more information: http://rico-coen.jic.ac.uk).  My work involves a lot of imaging using microscopes and 3D imaging of young leaves and flowers. This is combined with gene expression and protein localisation experiments to test our ideas about how shape is formed.  I also use computer modelling of shape to test our ideas about how shape forms, I then test this computer model using experiments in plants. It is not all work! When I am not in the lab I sing, dance, read, run, cook, sketch, watch films, travel……….

Mike Rugen

Let’s keep this short and sweet! Hi, I’m Mike. I work in the Field group within the Biological Chemistry department. We are a group of carbohydrate chemists and biologists working on many aspects of sugars. I work on the plant enzymes involved in starch metabolism. Before working at JIC I studied undergraduate Biochemistry and Master’s level Chemical Biology at the University of Leeds. Outside the lab I enjoy cooking, playing for Norwich Rugby Club, cycling and listening to music.

Yara Sanchez-Corrales

My broad research interest is to understand the mechanistic basis of how the enormous biodiversity of shapes is generated during development and, in a longer temporal scale, during evolution. This, of course, requires understanding of how different levels of organization interact temporally and spatially: from genes to cells, from cells to tissues, from tissues to organs, from organs to organisms, and from organisms to populations. I graduated with a bachelor degree in Biology from UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico). There, I studied how the combinatorial action of groups of genes underlies the dynamical genetic regulatory network (GRN) that accounts for the cell fate specification during flower development. Elements of GRN are well conserved among flower plants, suggesting this module has been used during the evolution many times.
Inspired by the fact that plant cells being intrinsically constraint to move or change neighbors nevertheless  develop very complex shapes, I decided to continue my studies as a postgraduate investigating tissue development from a cellular perspective. Currently, my PhD research is mainly focused on two complementary aspects: cell polarity and cell dynamics during leaf morphogenesis. My PhD supervisors are Dr. Veronica Grieneisen and Prof. Enrico Coen. Outside the lab, I enjoy cooking (especially Mexican food!), gardening and travelling.

Izzy Webb

I’m Izzy and I’m a third year PhD student at JIC. I began my PhD working in the department of Molecular Microbiology (this title can sound a bit daunting, but really it just involves looking at bacteria). Since my PhD started my supervisor relocated to the University of Oxford – so now I’m a JIC student working undercover in the Oxford Department of Plant Sciences. Before moving to Norwich I lived in Hertfordshire, and I did my undergraduate degree at the University of Cambridge, specialising in Plant Sciences. At JIC I work on a microbe called Rhizobia leguminosarum, which is a bacteria that interacts with the roots of peas and other leguminous plants. This interaction involves the bacteria forming a symbiosis with the roots, and acting to ‘fix’ nitrogen from the air into a form that the plant can use. In return it receives sugars and other nutrients from the plant to give it the energy for this process. Outside of my PhD research I have been trying to make the most of as many different opportunities available to me whilst being a student in Norwich.  I have strong interests in science communication and science policy, and how research and science education is represented and run in the UK.

Follow me on twitter @isabelwebb


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