I came to Oriel in 2017 after completing my master’s degree in Molecular Biology at the University of Sheffield. My master’s project involved investigating the effect of DNA secondary structures on gene expression in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, while I was also involved in a smaller project to develop software tools to deploy the Biodalliance genome browser. While at Sheffield, I was part of the Sheffield team for the 2016 International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition. Our team worked toward the development of a tool for differentiating bacterial and non-bacterial infections using synthetic biology, which was nominated for best diagnostics project that year.
I am now working with Professor Philip Poole in the Department of Plant Sciences, investigating the basis of competitive nodulation and nitrogen fixation in Rhizobium leguminosarum. These soil-dwelling bacteria form symbioses with important crop plants such as peas, in order to carry out biological nitrogen fixation to promote plant growth without the need for environmentally-damaging artificial fertilisers. Coating pea seeds with high concentrations of an effective Rhizobium strain before sowing can significantly increase yields for farmers, and many commercial inoculants have been developed for this purpose. The effectiveness of a strain used for a commercial inoculant is partly dependent upon the ability of the strain to compete with a soil’s native rhizobia and successfully initiate symbioses. I am using high-throughput transposon insertion sequencing (INSeq) techniques to identify and investigate genes contributing to competitiveness. It is hoped that this research can be used to develop competitive and effective Rhizobium strains for use in commercial inoculants, which would have implications for food security and sustainable agriculture. My research is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Nottingham-based inoculant company Legume Technology.