Tuesday, September 27, 2011

It has begun.

So, he said, I've started my PhD. I thought I'd offer a little overview of what I'm going to be doing for the next few years.

There's a bacteria called Pseudomonas syringae, which is a plant pathogen. It has a number of different varieties or pathovars, which are quite specific in terms of which plants they use as hosts. One of these pathovars, P. syringae pv actinidiae, attacks kiwifruit. I'm essentially going to be spending the next few years looking at the interaction between the two organisms - various cultivars of kiwifruit and Psa.
I'm assuming that everyone knows about DNA, not necessarily it's exact structure or how it works, but at least that it exists and that it's where the instructions for a cell are kept. Proteins are the molecules in cells that do all the work, in addition to constructing and operating the cell around them, some of them make more copies of themselves, using the instructions in the DNA. An intermediate step in the process, between getting getting the information out of a piece of DNA and turning it into a protein is the production of RNA. RNA being a molecule very similar to DNA but a lot more mobile. So, as part of this PhD, we are going to be extracting large amounts of RNA from kiwifruit plant cells, some of which will have been infected with Psa. This will let me see which genes are in the process of being turned into proteins and various different times. If some genes are being turned on in infected plant cells but not in clean plant cells, there is a possibility that those genes might be involved in the plant attempting to fight off the pathogen. The long term goal is to build up a computer model of how the various genes interact and how the plants genes interact with the bacterial genes that are attacking.

All of this will hopefully let the plant breeders at Plant and Food Research identify genes that will improve the resistance of the plants to the bacteria. Which would be a good thing, given the damage this bug is currently doing to our kiwifruit industry. I'm going to try and pepper this blog with a more details over the coming months, which will involve posts at various levels of biology and maths, hopefully I won't bore anyone to much.

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