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Mansi Gandhi

Understanding plant-microbe interactions With a relentless passion for plants, a strong desire to secure the world’s food resources and numerous papers and awards under his belt, Dr Jonathan Plett from Western Sydney University is one of Australia’s most promising scientists.

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in next door and proceeded to turn their entire property into a huge flower garden. When they saw how enthralled I was with their achievement, they offered to teach me how to grow flowers. So ast year, Plett’s research and engagement

I roped my father into the deal and, through their

on the relationships between plants and the fungi in

tutelage and a lot of sage advice from my father, I

soils saw him receive the much-coveted 2016 NSW

planted my first flower garden and spent the next

Young Tall Poppy Science Award. Issued by the

five years learning how to grow a whole range of

Australian Institute of Policy and Science, the Young

perennial flowering plants, bushes and vines. I have

Tall Poppy Science Awards recognise promising

never looked back — every house I have lived in

young scientists who achieve scientific excellence

since has always had at least a corner of the yard

and demonstrate a commitment to sharing their

or patio dedicated to growing plants, and this has

passion and knowledge.

naturally extended now into my work.

Plett is one of the many interesting speakers at

So I suppose that the possibility of being able

this year’s ComBio conference, being held at the

to turn my passion for plants into a career was what

Adelaide Convention Centre from 2–5 October.

drew me into studying science and eventually into

We interviewed him to learn more about his past,

a career in research.

present and future in the world of plants.

LLS: What’s your lab’s current research focus?

Lab+Life Scientist: How did you become

JP: Currently my group is focused on trying to

interested in plant science?

understand how the plant immune system works.

Jonathan Plett: The love of research runs in the

Specifically, we are trying to understand how the

family — my father and brother are both engineers,

plant is able to filter/identify/interpret chemical and

my mother was in the field of Biblical studies and

protein signals from soil-borne microorganisms

my cousin’s in English literature. I, on the other

(microbes) to determine if a given microbe will be

hand, loved plants. From a young age, how plants

beneficial or detrimental to plant health. We hope

grow and flower and flourish has fascinated me.

to use this information to breed new crops or select

My father had a huge veggie garden that he

new stock for forestry plantations that are better

would dedicate hours to every week, from early

able to withstand disease-causing microbes, while

spring to the final frost. As a young child, he’d let

fostering relationships with other microbes that can

me look through seed catalogues with him and let

benefit their health and productivity.

me pick out a few seeds that I could plant and grow

LLS: Tell us about your ‘eureka’ moments.

myself. This began a lifelong passion for growing

JP: One of the most exciting eureka moments in

plants. When I was 10, an English couple moved

our lab was a couple of years ago. We had spent

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Lab+Life Scientist Aug/Sep 2017  

Lab+Life Scientist provides researchers, lab managers, department heads, scientists, academics, investors, and other science industry profes...

Lab+Life Scientist Aug/Sep 2017  

Lab+Life Scientist provides researchers, lab managers, department heads, scientists, academics, investors, and other science industry profes...