My path to where I am today has been a rather unusual one. I originally studied Zoology at the University of Bristol with the foolish idea that one day, I could potentially be the next Attenborough. Through a compulsory module in my second year, I encountered true genetics for the first time. Against my expectations, it turned out to be the module I performed the best in that year. From then, I decided to explore these areas further and undertake more genetics and biotechnology modules. After graduation, I continued my newfound interest in plant genetics and agricultural biotech and undertook a research masters at Imperial College London in Molecular Plants and Microbial Sciences. It was there that I truly developed a passion for research, lab work and the academic environment. I was lucky enough the leave Imperial with the highest honours and the Eurofins award for my course.
I am currently undertaking research under Professor Mark Dickman in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of Sheffield. Our multidisciplinary group is primarily interested in employing analytical approaches, centred around HPLC and mass spectrometry, to tackle biological problems using our varied backgrounds and specialities to complement each other.
Pesticide resistance has increased drastically since the beginning of the green revolution, however, since 2007 tighter regulations and a change in public opinion with regards to safety and the negative effects on biodiversity has seen a decrease in usage. More sustainable alternatives are therefore in demand. RNA interference via dsRNA can be used to target both pests and pathogens of crops, in a sequence-specific manner, ensuring a reduction in the impact of surrounding biodiversity. Spray-induced gene silencing has demonstrated effective crop protection against various pests and pathogens, within both small and large scale applications. However, multiple factors are limiting the replacement of chemical pesticides with biopesticides, including the cost of production.
My PhD will look to tackle this problem from a biological and chemical engineering angle. Primarily working with E. coli as a microbial system, I will be investigating various methods of in vivo dsRNA production with the aim of increasing product uniformity and overall yield. This will hopefully lead to biopesticides becoming a viable, affordable and sustainable replacement for agriculture on all scales.