I joined the Haseloff Lab last October as OpenPlant Research Manager. My work revolves around the OpenPlant goal of developing foundational technologies for engineering the model plant Marchantia polymorpha. To effectively combine biology and engineering, synthetic biology needs appropriate technological platforms together with changes in the way the scientific community engages. My work is related to both topics, and I am thrilled about all the challenges ahead!
To start with, I am establishing modular pipelines that can scale from small projects to high-throughput experiments. For example, we are developing automation platforms for protocols like DNA assembly using the recently acquired Echo550 acoustic liquid handler. Alongside, we are standardising protocols in relation to Marchantia propagation, transformation and storage. For the screening and characterisation of the generated Marchantia lines, I am also developing imaging pipelines with a view to quantitatively characterise DNA parts and genetic circuits.
We are establishing an imaging hub at Plant Sciences, including a new Keyence digital microscope for real-time 3D reconstruction of Marchantia plants. We are very well equipped with a series of new fluorescent microscopes with different resolution capabilities, for example a new Leica stereo microscope with fluorescence as well as a new top of the range Leica SP8 confocal microscope. I coordinated a summer workshop on LithographX, open source and open development software for 2D/3D image processing and visualisation.
While we build upon infrastructures and protocols, we need to develop frameworks to facilitate the sharing and reuse of the knowledge produced between all OpenPlant labs in Cambridge and Norwich. To succeed, this needs to be driven by an open community, and I am very fortunate to have around me a group of researchers who recognise the mutual gains of standardisation and are ready to embrace it at the practical level. I established regular meetings for Researchers related to OpenPlant in Cambridge (ROC), both from CU and SLUC, to discuss on OpenPlant-related issues and common research interests.
I’d like to emphasise that all this work on lab infrastructures and workflows, standardisation and sharing, is being established along numerous research lines. In my case, I am fascinated by growth and development, and I am bringing my previous scientific background to projects related to mapping cell lineages during Marchantia gemmae development, modelling gemmae growth, and the induction of localised gene expression in space and time to engineer morphogenesis and metabolism. I am involved in the lab project on Enhancer Trap (ET) lines. These lines report the activity of endogenous regulatory sequences and each ET line expression pattern can be visualised throughout gemmae development. We are searching for lines that will tag specific cell lineages and reveal developmental transitions, which in addition, can later be used to genetically manipulate particular cell types.
I also participate in an OpenPlant Fund project on single RNA molecule imaging with Dr Susan Duncan from the John Innes Centre.