Birnam Wood did freeze: Jennifer Ro joins Real Scientists

Life is found at every temperature and under very condition on this planet. Fish live deep in the ocean  and survive with anti-freeze proteins, bacteria and worms on the edge of volcanic ocean vents. Older rice crops have higher resistance to some diseases and insects.  All of these properties of resistance – against cold and heat and intruder – evolved through the genetic make up of these life forms. How can we better understand these adaptations and the genes behind them? How jdr-2can we utilise these genes? Why are some genes switched on and off in some species and not others? These are some of the genetic idiosyncrasies that our next curator, PhD student Jennifer Ro (@OshnGirl) studies. Photobiologist and plant geneticist Jen studies soybean plants, where she’s found genes that are found in other plants that are not switched on in soybean plants. Her work is a fascinating foray into a crop we are familiar with: soybeans, and it explores all the fascinating properties of plant biology. Here’s Jen’s story in her own words:

My grandfather has a PhD in education and some of my earliest memories are doing science experiments with him. I did not realize it at the time, but I was his guinea pig for projects his student teachers came up with for kids.

It has been a one thing led to another journey. When I was a kid I wanted to be a marine biologist. In undergrad I went to Australia to study abroad which led me to abiotic stress response in the algae. This led me to abiotic stress in plants and my current research!

I study the cold responsive pathway in soybean. Soybean does not like the cold. The seedling stage is particularly susceptible to cold temperatures and frost. A frost or cold snap after planting can kill or severely damage the seedlings leading to a loss for crop yield. We know that soybean have similar cold protective genes to plants that are cold tolerant, like Arabidopsis. Yet these genes are not activated. My question is why not, and is it possible to activate them?

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Soybean is a major crop across the world, providing food, animal feed, oil, biodiesel, etc. The ability to survive colder snaps could allow for more crop yield and the ability to plant in areas currently too cold to support soybean.

I’m a single Mom to an awesome 9 year old. We do Cub Scouts, I make plant science videos for his class, bring in microscopes to do demos. It’s a lot of fun!

How would you describe your ideal day off? (Scientists are people too!) I’m a pretty big geek. I have been doing text based RPG’s called “simming” since I was in high school. Huge Star Trek fan, have gone to conventions in full uniform before. I actually own 2 Star Trek uniforms. I’ve been a certified SCUBA diver more than half my life but location makes it difficult for me to dive a lot right now.

Ideal Day off? Spend the morning SCUBA diving on a coral reef, afternoon snorkeling with the kiddo, evening writing fiction on the beach while sipping a drink with an umbrella in it!

Please welcome Jen/@OshnGirl to Real Scientists!

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