Favourite Thing: Dry ice bombs are quite fun, but not to be tried at home!
Framwellgate Moor Comp, Durham 1993-2000
Leeds University 2001-2004 Biology; University of Nottingham 2004-2008 PhD in Plant Sciences
Avecia Biotech, Billigham, 2000-2001 Year in Industry
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Me and my work
I use genetic modification to make African crops resistant to pests
I work at the University of Leeds in a lab that specialises in producing food plants that can’t be attacked by pests, called plant parasitic nematodes, that are in soil across the world. Plant parasitic nematodes are microscopic worms that feed on the roots of plants, so the plants can’t get all the nutrients they need out of the soil and aren’t able to grow as well. If a lot of these nematodes attack a plant then they can completely destroy the roots and the plant will fall over and die. In the UK farmers use chemicals to kill the nematodes, but in places like Africa these chemicals aren’t available or aren’t affordable so a lot of food is lost each year becasue of nematode attack.
The crop I work on at the moment is banana. In Africa the main types of banana eaten are different to the sweet bananas that we eat in the UK and have to be cooked before they are eaten. It is third most important food crop in Africa and is mainly grown by poor farmers to provide food for their families and any that is left over is taken to the local market to be sold.
Because bananas have no seeds (or at least non that you can plant and grow trees from) we can’t use other varieties of banana that have a natural ability to fight of nematodes to breed with the varieties that farmers want to grow. So I’m using genetic modification to introduce a gene from maize (corn) to banana plants that will stop nematodes from being able to digest the roots of the banana and so they won’t be able to attack the roots.
My Typical Day
There is no such thing!
My project has a lot of different aspects to it so I don’t really have a typical day, I can be found at the lab bench doing molecular biology, or in the tropical glasshouse running experiments on my banana plants, or in Uganda doing field work and visiting the scientists out there that I work with, or anywhere in the world where there is a nematode or tropical crop conference (so far I’ve been to South Africa and Kenya for conferences).
What I'd do with the money
I would donate the money to charity
The grant that pays for my work already has plenty of money in it for communicating my work, so I feel the best way to make use of the money would be to donate it to Farm Africa, a charity that works in Eastern Africa to improve the livelihoods of poor rural farmers by helping them make the best use of the resources they have. It is organisations like Farm Africa that will be needed to help ensure that poor rural farmers can benefit from the pest resistant bananas that I produce.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Errmm, aah, well…
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Cycled through Morrocco
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
That I can always do a job that I love, that I get to work somwhere hot and sunny and that I always have enough money to live comfortably
What did you want to be after you left school?
I just wanted to do something I enjoyed
Were you ever in trouble at school?
A little, but generally I was the quiet one
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
I’ll tell you in a few years time
Tell us a joke.
Two cowboys in a kitchen, which is the real one? The one on the range!