Wadham biologists share research highlights

31st October 2019

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Two Wadham Biologists, given the Whall-Moore Award in Biology to undertake full-time summer research studentships, share highlights from their research into slime mould and plant immune responses. 

  • Freya Way

    Freya Way

  • Image of the fungus analysed by Freya

  • Image of the fungus analysed by Freya

Freya Way (Biology 2017) focused on fungi mycelium and slime mould plasmodium for her research in Plant Sciences: 

“These organisms specialise in breaking down biological matter in dark damp places such as woodland soil and leaf litter. As they grow, forage and deplete their resources, they create impressively self-organised biological networks, which have evolved and optimised over millions of years, and may be able to provide us with exciting insights into the efficient design of spatial networks and transport systems.”

Her work included maintaining the health of the slime mould culture and conducting mould feeding experiments to assess what food regime generates the most healthy and abundant slime mould plasmodium. 

Using a light microscope she photographed fungi to monitor their growth through time, learning the technicalities of imaging material to the high standard necessary for quantified image analysis -the computerized way to process and compare large data sets of images.

“This was an incredibly useful experience in which I developed skills in using a wide range of equipment, performing practical lab tasks, and computational quantified analysis techniques, which will be invaluable for future research. I enjoyed delving into the study of biological networks, which is to me an exciting field in the way it ranges incredibly from cell biology right up to physiology and ecology. In addition, this was a great opportunity to experience working full time in a lab and research setting, where I enjoyed being exposed to the wide-ranging research and ideas of the international group.”

  • Ethan Sung

    Ethan Sung

Working in the Plant Chemetics lab in Plant Sciences, Ethan Sung (Biology 2018) investigated the immune response to pathogens across multiple plant species. These included familiar food crops such as tomato, potato and barley, as well as so-called model organisms (species that are easy to maintain and work within a laboratory setting). These plants are susceptible to infection by a number of pathogens that could potentially cause disease and harm the plant, including viruses, bacteria and fungi.

“My work was lab-based, involving the daily responsibility of ensuring that our plants remained healthy in the greenhouses, by making sure that they were sufficiently hydrated and were not damaged by pests.” 

Ethan treated the plants with a chemical called Bion to cause the plant cells to release chemicals from the cell into the apoplast, where the interaction between the host plant and the plant pathogen is crucial for the outcome of the infection. He monitored the reactions in the plants, using a syringe and centrifuge to extract fluid from the apoplast.  After a variety of further experiments, Ethan and his supervisor were able to show that species produce different proteins in response to pathogen infection. 

“This work would not have been possible without the time, commitment and guidance that Felix Homma has given me, the resources and company that the Plant Chemetics lab has provided throughout the placement, and the generous Whall-Moore prize awarded by Wadham College,” he said. 

The Whall-Moore award, a generous gift from Wadham alumni, is open to first and second year biologists (or third years who will be completing a fourth year) interested in working within the research field, or a related field, of a Wadham Biology Fellow or Lecturer. Interested students should initially contact their Tutor to discuss the opportunity.

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