This week we have a blog piece from Alice Robijns on her time with us at Lancaster working on RIPE & Rubisco.
After a very productive year, she’s just recently joined Wanne Kromdijk and his group to do a PhD on C4 photosynthesis.
In a year which was characterised by coming in and out of COVID-19 lockdowns, I felt extremely lucky that I was able to join the photosynthesis group in Lancaster, and work on a subject I am passionate about.
Rubisco is such an exciting part of photosynthesis to look at: as the central enzyme, it links up the light-dependent and light-independent reactions. Despite this, there is still a lot we don’t know about Rubisco, and being able to work with the team in Lancaster, many of whom have worked on Rubisco for a long time, was so valuable for my understanding and development. Most of my lab work focused on using molecular biology to develop new tools to help us dive deeper into Rubisco biochemistry. If I’ve learnt anything about science the last couple of years, is that nothing is quite as simple as the protocol will tell you, especially for cloning. Doug helpfully described it as ‘voodoo’ when I was complaining about my PCRs not working without apparent reason… While this was frustrating at times, it was also immensely satisfying when things did finally work. It was a new experience for me to feel so independent and competent in the lab, and even being someone that other people asked for advice!
I also was reminded this year of how creative working in science is. When one of my synthesised genes didn’t arrive for a while due to COVID and Brexit-related delays, I was able to do some computational analyses of DNA and protein sequences and reviewing past literature on Rubisco regulation. I really enjoyed this opportunity to develop my scientific thinking and analysis.
Of course, the biggest reason I had such an enjoyable time was because I felt so welcomed by everyone there, despite social distancing and having to wear a mask. Days in the lab were characterised by conversations about home-schooling, adventures in the Lake District and radio on Fridays. Outside of work, I had a great time exploring the areas around Lancaster, particularly the Lake District and going for swims in Morecambe Bay. I adopted a swiss cheese plant with a friend who we named Wallace.
Now, I have started my PhD at Cambridge University, working on photoprotection in C4 plants, and my first lab work to do is golden gate cloning! I had a really great time in Lancaster: I learnt a huge amount, came to be fascinated about Rubisco and how it works, and made the most of a year that only a few months before had seemed very unsure. Lastly, I want to say a huge thank you to everyone in the lab, especially Elizabete who gave me the position and Rhiannon, Mike and Doug who supported me with my experiments.
A big thanks from the Lancaster photosynthesis team for all your contributions Alice, and best wishes for your PhD studies!