My paper on a new plant pathogen system

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Different accessions of Brachypodium infected with Ustilago bromivora. The fungus is the black material in the spikelet. (Source: My new paper!)

I finally have the first publication from my PhD out! It’s quite a nice paper too which took a lot longer than expected. And it’s also open access so everyone can read it! If you do, you’ll learn about a new system we have set up for understanding plant pathogen interactions with the fungus Ustilago bromivora and the grass Brachypodium distachyon.

My contribution to this is almost entirely in bioinformatics. The genome assembly had been performed before I joined the group, but I did theĀ genome analysis and comparative genomics, starting off visiting some collaborators in Munich. This was quite nice; going in a direction which is becoming more and more important and taking things further than I had before. Continue reading

Long Night Of Research

About two weeks ago I was involved in a public outreach programme, theĀ Lange Nacht der Forschung (Long Night of Research). This was a series of events around Austria that had scientific organisations sharing their research with the public. I was one of the volunteers at the Gregor Mendel Institute‘s display at the Heldenplatz in Vienna. According to the head of public relations from the Austrian Academy of Science, about 12 000 people passed through the display tent!

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Part of the GMI display with me in the background. (Source: APA)

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Flowering plants

As I will be leaving to study and do research in Austria tomorrow, I am going to have say goodbye to my plants. I plan to spread them around the family though so they should hopefully be well cared for. I did take some pictures recently when they were flowering and feel it’s worth sharing them.

I still have both the plants I got after my honours year and you can read more about them in my original post. The Delosperma echinatum hasn’t flowered much and I don’t have a new picture of it. I think that was because it got pushed off the window sill by my other pots and perhaps doesn’t get as much sun as it would like. The Mesembryanthemum crystallinum is still as sparkly as ever, though I don’t think anyone will be prepared to harvest the seeds every year. I do have some stored, however, and I’ll ask that it doesn’t get thrown away when it dies.

M. crystallinum flower

M. crystallinum flower

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Quicklinks: GMOs

I happened to find a number of stories about genetically modified organisms this past week and thought they might be worth sharing. Not only have the early pioneers of GM plants been awarded the World Food Prize but the British government seems to be pushing strongly for GM crops. I think this is great. The technology can do amazing things, especially if we’re going to be facing issues with climate change.

There are many people who claim it’s not safe but there’s really no evidence of that. The technology itself should be safe and the few studies that claim it’s not are poorly designed. There’s a post on Science Based Medicine that looks at the many flaws with a recent study that claim GM crops are hazardous to our health.

There may be valid criticisms of the behaviour of some companies, like Monsanto, but that’s no reason to jettison the whole field of GMOs. If you think a company makes computers unnecessarily expensive or hard to use you wouldn’t tell people not to use computers, you would tell that company to change it’s practices. Similarly, if there’s a problem with the way GMO producers behave then it’s fine to focus on that but don’t make unscientific claims about how dangerous GMOs are.

Weekend nature walk

Rondebosch Common with Table Mountain in the background

Rondebosch Common with Table Mountain in the background

I decided, a few weeks back, to make a point to walk on the weekends. Other than that I don’t really get a huge amount of exercise. Luckily, I’m not too far away from a large open area, Rondebosch Common. Many people in the surrounding area go there to walk, with or without their dogs, and it is one of the few places where you can still find Cape Flats Sand Fynbos, which only occurs in Cape Town. According to Wikipedia, 85% of its range has been lost and only 1% of what remains is protected. Rondebosch Common is one of those areas. It’s also interesting to note that South Africa’s Fynbos is one of the most diverse types of vegetation. Continue reading

E&R’s first birthday!

On the 14th October 2011 I put my first blog post online. Now it’s one year later and this is my 100th post. It’s not a coincidence, I planned that way because it’s a nice round number. This is a chance for me to celebrate where I’ve come from, what I’ve achieved over the year and to highlight a few of my favourite posts.

I started reading blogs when I was doing my honours degree as a way to keep up with what was happening in science. I can’t remember exactly which blogs I started out on but I remember Pharyngula was one of them and, later, why Evolution Is True. They are still some of my favourite blogs, though I must say I much prefer WEIT. This was all after I’d started reading Dawkins, thanks to a professor in first year biology who mentioned the selfish gene during a lecture series on evolution. He didn’t agree with a gene-centred view of evolution but did recommend it for those that wanted to see a different perspective, and after reading it I couldn’t see how anyone could see a different view of evolution. Continue reading

Heritage Day weekend trip

A sculpture at the entrance to Marlow Agricultural School

This weekend was a long weekend as Monday was a public holiday (Heritage Day) and I, along with the rest of my nuclear family, spent it at Marlow Agricultural School, a short way from Craddock, with my aunt and uncle on my father’s side. It was rather nice as we tend to only see them every few years. Continue reading