In 2019, I completed an integrated masters in biology at the University of Sheffield, where I developed a passion for plant biology. I became fascinated by understanding how plants could employ mechanisms of resistance to pests, disease or unfavourable conditions in situ, prevailing over stresses without the need for relocation. In particular, my undergraduate dissertation focussed upon how farmers can employ these strategies to overcome issues in arable farming. Taking a strategic approach to farming became a key source of motivation for me, and in my masters year I collaborated with PhD students in the Fleming lab working on the ‘C4 rice project’. This was part of a global initiative to improve rice crops by making them more efficient and more productive by altering their mechanism for photosynthesis. In the Fleming lab, I got a taste for molecular work and have since been developing my molecular biology skill set. I then seized the opportunity to complete a molecular biology PhD directly linked to food security concerns when it came about in the Fleming lab.
Premature sprouting is a major source of waste in potato production. To prevent unwanted sprouting, producers apply sprout suppressants to hold tubers in their dormant state. However, the most effective and widely used suppressant, CIPC, is being highly restricted, and the alternatives are insufficient for current production. As such, it is essential to develop new suppressants, and to achieve this we need to identify targets for suppression. The focus of my PhD will be identifying these targets by developing our understanding of the metabolic mechanisms occurring throughout early sprouting. I will use DESI MSI to do this, as it will provide distributional information about the abundance of metabolites throughout sprouting. DESI MSI is not well established for the analysis of plant metabolites so a proportion of my PhD will be spent optimising the protocol for reliable analysis. Using DESI I will map metabolites and make insights into their transport throughout sprouting. I will then take these insights to interrogate an in-house RNAseq database, identify lead genes of potential targets for suppression and generate transgenic cultivars to test for sprout suppression.