Lab Supply sponsored two prizes at the recent University of Canterbury Annual Biology Conference - Best Journal Article by a PhD Student and Most Innovative Research. As a company that works behind the scenes supporting science and discovery, encouraging emerging scientists in their research pursuits is an exciting extension of the work we do, and our way of giving back to the science community we work so closely with.
Moritz Miebach, PhD candidate in Biological Sciences, is winner of the ‘Most innovative research’ award for his project titled ‘The effect of bacterial leaf isolates on the Arabidopsis immune response’.
His research focuses on the intricate relationships between plants and their microbiome. Microbes provide many useful functions to plants. They promote their growth, help them withstand environmental stresses, and protect them from diseases.
Microbiome research has dramatically increased in recent years and being somewhat of an interdisciplinary research field, its a joy to work in, says Moritz.
We caught up with Moritz to ask him about his research and his plans going forward.
What does winning the award mean to you?
Winning the award means a lot to me. Most people that earned a PhD would probably agree that the road towards one can be bumpy from time to time. Venturing into the unknown can bring along frustration in the form of failed experiments, hypotheses that do not hold up, etc. On the flip side though with great risk comes great reward. Personally, I like to think of creative ways to tackle simple and complex problems. Winning the award proves to me that it pays to think outside the box.
I would like to give a shout out to all the amazing people involved in this work - my supervisor Prof. Mitja Remus-Emsermann for his wealth of knowledge and great input, my co-supervisor Prof. Emerita Paula Jameson for bouncing ideas back and forth and her calm nature that can be soothing in stressful times, and Renji Jiang for endless chats and discussions in the lab while he worked with me on the project during his M.Sc. thesis. And not to forget all my amazing colleagues for making the ‘daily grind’ an enjoyable and nourishing experience.
How do you see your research creating impact in society and/or in the scientific world?
The application of microbes to crops has a huge potential to enhance modern agriculture in an environmentally sustainable way. I have no doubt that someday biological products will supersede chemical products in agriculture. Till then however, we need to greatly further our understanding of the complex and intricate interactions that take place within the plant-microbiome cosm. The more we understand something, the better we can work with it, and shape it to our needs.
By doing fundamental research I am contributing to further our base-level understanding of the complex interactions in the plant-microbiome cosm. I won this award by developing a cost- and time-effective way to measure a molecular response of the plant's immune system. This new method enables us to study the effect of many different bacteria on this particular plant response. Therefore, we do not have to select a handful of bacteria hoping they would reflect the large and complex diversity of bacteria found on plants. Rather we can study them all, providing us with a better reflection of what is happening in the plant-microbiome cosm.
What’s next for you and your research?
I’m really looking forward to the last experiments of my PhD. The method that I won the award for allowed me to study a wide range of diverse bacteria for their effect on a molecular plant response. This led to the discovery of a few interesting bacteria that I will now study in greater depth. I will be using state-of-the-art technology to look at the effect of these bacteria on the plants’ gene expression, basically which plant genes are activated or deactivated in response to these bacteria.
Everything going smoothly, I will finish my PhD around July/August 2022. I have not fully made up my mind yet about the direction I want to steer my career in. During my degree I gained valuable data analysis and programming skills. I love thinking about various ways to look at data and try to tackle problems from different perspectives.
One thing I know almost certainly though is that I want to stay in Aotearoa. I just love the people, the beautiful beaches, and the snowy mountains.