I'm sorry to go. Have really enjoyed taking part. Good luck to all of the remaining scientists. Keep up the good work guys!
Scoil Mhuire Fatima, Cork 1989-1993; North Monastery CBS, Cork. 1993-1998
Plant and Microbial Biotechnology, University College Cork.
Universtiy of Alberta, Canada
Researcher and Lecturer
University College Cork
Favourite thing to do in my job: I love to mess around with soil. Soil is the “poorman’s tropical rainforest”.It’s jam-packed with creepy crawlies, microbes, worms and plants! Their interaction with one another is an amazing thing to study. It’s got everything – bugs competing with each other; plants and microorganisms interacting in good and bad ways; microbes attacking plants; and plants gathering nutrients through their roots. All life is here – in a bucket of soil!
I use some sneaky tricks to try and fool pesky plant pests!
Humans need food to survive and a huge proportion of that food comes from plants. Plants are important too for other reasons: for fuel, building materials, parks, etc.
Some people argue that, because of the huge increases in population around the world, we’ll need to produce as much food in the next 40 years as we did in the last 8,000! How are we going to do that?
Part of the solution is to make plants grow better and with less disease. My work looks at one particular plant pest – the Potato Cyst Nematode!!
This bad guy lives in the soil and gobbles up the roots of potato plants, meaning much less potatoes get produced for making chips, crisps, mashed potatoes and so on. Here at University College Cork (UCC – that’s in Ireland) we’re looking at ways of controlling the potato cyst nematode using biological methods.
Using biological control means there is (hopefully) less of an impact on the environment and the pest can be controlled more effectively. Options we’re looking at is to use microscopic bacteria living in the soil to fool the nematode into waking up from its hibernation at the wrong time. We’re also looking at using ‘imposter plants’ to trick the nematodes into waking. These imposter plants look like potato and are related to potato but aren’t potato!!
It’s tough out there in the potato field and we’re using every sneaky trick in the book to deal with these nematode bad guys!
Did you know?? Soil is the “Factory of Life”, with scientists estimating that 25% of all species on planet Earth live in the soil!
Picture: From the European Atlas of Soil Biodiversity
My Typical Day
I’m in the lab or knee deep in mud!
I’m usually up early and in the lab by around 8.30am. If I’m lecturing sometime that day, then I might spend some time preparing for that – getting some slides together or preparing handouts. At the moment, a lot of my experimental work is complete so I am writing like mad, preparing for new projects and writing up the old ones.
My experimental work involved collecting chemicals and microorganisms from the roots of potato plants and figuring out whether they could be used to trigger the potato cyst nematodes (PCN) to hatch. This often meant producing hundreds of tiny potato plants under sterile conditions in the lab (see pic), or sometimes planting potatoes in large experimental plots outside. So one day I could be working in sterile, ultra-clean labs and the next I could be knee deep in mud!
^^Potato plants growing under sterile conditions in the lab^^
If I can squeeze a break in around 11, I try to have a cup of tea and some chocolate, but I always break for lunch at 1pm. Depending on the day, I could find myself setting up experiments with students, collecting results or analysing the results of previous work.
^^Chocolate – best plant-based product ever!!^^
There is also the boring work of meetings and paperwork that has to be dealt with, but I always prefer to be teaching or messing around in the lab or in the glasshouse.
A good mixture of things to do in any given day makes any job more enjoyable. So, if things aren’t going right for you in one area, you’ve got another thing that might work!
What I'd do with the prize money
I want to use it to spread the word about science!
I’d like to use some of it to continue my work on the Communicate Science blog where I try to spread the word about all things science. I’d like to get schools involved in writing about science, making videos and taking photos of their own scientific experiments and investigations.
The rest I’d use to bring science to local schools – new equipment, visiting speakers, that sort of thing.
I’m open to ideas though…. what do you think I should do with it?
^^Plants – what’s not to love?^^
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Enthusiastic, hopeful, inquisitive
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
I once gave a talk at the Linnean Society in London where Charles Darwin’s ‘Origin of the Species’ paper was first read – he’s big hero of mine.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
I got suspended once – but I’m not telling you what for :)
Who is your favourite singer or band?
I really like Mumford and Sons at the moment.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Two years ago I ran the marathon for the first time – possibly the hardest, but also the most fun thing I’ve ever done. I’m just about recovered from it now :)
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
To be happy; to be healthy and to have massive piles of cash…probably in that order too!
Tell us a joke.
What did the zero say to the eight? “Hey, I like your belt!” (Sorry, that was pretty bad – Eoin)