Group research focus
We explore patterns of fungal population diversity and their interactions with plants. This type of work has implications for management of viable populations of rare and threatened species, but also for plant disease management in agricultural and natural ecosystems.
Teaching and research achievements
Being able to get the message across to students and industry, that a species is not a single entity but that it consists of ever changing and often highly variable populations, and that a single tiny lesion on a leaf can be caused by multiple fungal individuals, all potentially exchanging genetic information. Also, that durable resistance in plants can be fairly accurately predicted by the life history of the pathogen.
What do you enjoy most about teaching?
Reviewing and preparing lectures is a chance to learn some new things myself in the ever-evolving knowledge and technological landscapes of science, and that is always stimulating for me. It does mean there’s always more to try and teach the students though – so finding ways to fit as much as possible in to a semester’s course is a challenge. If I can inspire students to not just absorb, but to embrace the concepts and apply those in their own science thinking, that feels like a big achievement.
Who is your science hero?
Heroine actually. Barbara McClintock’s story is one that always inspires me. She worked in the early years of cytogenetics, demonstrated things like recombination between sister chromosomes during meiosis and how inheritance of traits in one could be attributed to such “crossing over” events. And her brilliant work on demonstrating the “jumping genes” or transposons – from trait observations deducing that a mechanism like that must exist inside nuclei at a time when nobody else had imagined it could, and being shunned by her peers because they couldn’t imagine it. She largely withdrew, waiting twenty years for others to demonstrate in simpler organisms what she had shown in maize in the early 1950s. And then thirty-odd years after this work she finally won a Nobel Prize for it. A very impressive female scientist at a time when there were very, very few women in science. And she achieved so much in her field that has been essential to the progress of modern genetics.