In 2016, a new project was funded for our group by NSF through the Plant Genome Research Project (https://nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=5338). In brief, we will try to predict genotypic variation in plant growth and yield with and without abiotic stress through biophysical process modeling. Personally, I am in charge for collecting and analyzing physiological data which, along with transcriptomic and metabolomic inputs, will be incorporated into a Bayesian framework.
Once again, Brassica rapa provides our organism of choice. It is and excellent crop system to improve predictive process modeling of yield from physiological trait expression. Rapa is a globally cultivated crop with a short life-cycle and several functionally diverse cultivars. We have started to compare and contrast several morpho/physiological types throughout their life, from seed to seed. Interestingly, B. rapa also shows a wide spectrum of stress responses, suggesting that there is nearly as much genetic variation to explore in B. rapa as there is across several species.
Last year, Wyoming Governor Matt Mead signed a proclamation and he declared a Computer Science Education Week (December 5-11). Wyoming schools were all encouraged to celebrate this inaugural event by participating in Hour of Code, an introduction to computer science.
Personally, I was really excited when they asked our lab at University of Wyoming to join the event and we spent a day working with students, aging between 7 and 17 yo. Enhanced computer science education and coding in schools is a major step, we as scientists have all the legacy to help teachers and students learning the basics of applied technologies.
Nowadays, growing the technology sector to diversify the economy is a priority of many States, including Wyoming: computing jobs have three times more demand than the state average. This event was a simple and fun way to help students learn the basics of what is really going on inside some devices they use every day.
During the CS day, we set up two stations where students used Arduino’s technology to monitor the environmental factors influencing growing rapa plants. Arduino is an open-source electronic prototyping platform enabling users to create interactive electronic objects. In this case, we connected the Arduino platforms to light (1) or soil moisture (2) sensors:
The platforms were connected to laptops which allow the students to check their readings and enter them into the R program. A pre-loaded R script walked the students through how they can code and create a boxplot obtaining a p-value too.
Working with plants gave us also the opportunity to show students one of the possibilities they have for their future that they may not have considered. Absolutely, this experience was really fulfilling for me as a scientist, giving me the chance to convey my work to both teachers and students of different ages. Some of the teens really loved working with plants. At the end, we named them and I gift some of them with some of our green friends!
Originally from Naples, Italy, I moved to Wyoming in 2011 to join the Department of Botany at UW, right after my PhD in Plant Physiology. It has been an amazing life experience for me!
It is absolutely inspiring to share the lab with so many students and postdocs with different backgrounds. I learn new things everyday about modeling, computer science and ecosystem ecology. My initial knowledge of plant physiology at the leaf level has been transforming over time to be part of the “bigger picture”.
During these past years, I have also had the opportunity to supervise over 20 undergraduate students in our lab and I realized how much I love interacting with them. It’s so satisfying for me when they become independent in their scientific thinking, write their first project or succeed in their first experiment!
The lab is my second home: I like to make sure everything is in place for everybody, taking care of instruments and supplies, trying to make methods and techniques available to each and every student stepping into the lab for the first time. Several students like to be in touch with me after their graduation, others step into the lab late in the evening just to say hi or send me a nice thank you card. My favorite is being called “the lab mama”!
Although fairly small, the University of Wyoming has given me several opportunities to develop my interests while gaining scientific independence. Laramie, which in 2011 was only a remote and unkown little town in the middle of nowhere, is now home.