University of Dundee

Nuffield Summer Students successfully complete Research Internships

17 Nov 2010

This summer, two Nuffield Bursary recipients were hosted by the Division of Plant Sciences (based on the SCRI campus) to carry out basic plant research in the labs of Prof. John Brown and Dr. Edgar Huitema.

Ewan Barrack (Arbroath High) spent 5 weeks in the lab of Dr. Edgar Huitema and worked together with PhD student Julietta Jupe. The objective of his study was to examine the expression of genes from the plant pathogenic microbe Phytophthora capsici during infection of three different hosts. Edgar Huitema commented on his work: “during the last 5 weeks, Ewan has contributed an enormous amount of data describing the expression of genes from P. capsici, that we think are important for infection. During his stay, he used a pathogen (P. capsici) to infect three different host species, documented what happens over time in each interaction, isolated RNA, and estimated the expression patterns of a number of genes across different time points. His work has resulted in the direct observation that all the genes tested thus far, behave similarly irrespective of the host interaction examined. In addition, he has convincingly shown that some of these genes are expressed in the early infection stages. This new information may prove critical in understanding how pathogens that infect a wide range of hosts, do their business.” Ewan’s second direct supervisor, Julietta Jupe adds: “Ewan was a very good student. He learned fast, worked hard and understood the project well.  He only needed help in the beginning to understand the background and context of his project.  He was quickly able to work independently in our lab and it was nice to have him here as a student, colleague and friend at the same time. In the end, Ewan was able to put together his own poster about his experiments and results which I was quite proud of.”

Ann “Maria” Abrahams (Morgan Academy) spent 4 weeks in John Brown’s lab and was supervised by a PhD student, Cristiane Calixto. Maria was trained in and performed a range of modern molecular biology techniques to address a question on the control of gene expression in plants. The lab is involved in understanding how alternative splicing of mRNAs occurs and Cristiane and Mark Spensley (a postdoc in the lab) are looking particularly at the role of small RNA molecules (small nucleolar RNAs - snoRNAs) in altering alternative splicing. Maria’s research experiment was to clone regions of target genes into a plant expression vector (mini-gene) and then express the mini-gene with and without a specific snoRNA in plant cells and assess whether the splicing pattern of the mini-gene was affected by the presence of the snoRNA. The project required hard work and very good organization and Cris commented that “it was a real pleasure and a lot of fun to be able to interact with and teach such an enthusiastic and able student”.

After the project, Maria sent a comment on her time in the lab:

“My experience of working in a lab alongside a real scientist in the Plant Sciences Division of the University of Dundee at SCRI was very fascinating. I had a chance to experience the real world of scientists and it has completely changed my view of a scientist. They were much more exciting and fun than I expected. Even though my time in the lab was quite intense, I am so glad that I did not spend my time just sitting around; I have learned lots that is helping me in my 6th year right now doing Advanced Highers. Every single day there was something exciting in store for me so that by the end of the four weeks, I wished I could have stayed longer. What I loved the most is that I did not just watch other people, but I actually carried out the experiments and processes. Overall, I feel honoured to have had such an advanced experience.”

Both Ewan and Maria attended the Nuffield Foundation Celebration Event which took place on Friday 3rd September in the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh.  Both presented posters on their projects. More recently, Maria received a Focus on Achievement award at the Dundee Education Department’s Annual Award ceremony. She won the SQA Award for Excellence for outstanding performance in her SQA exams.