Category Archives: Courses

Plant Pathology 15c

Last week I completed another course: Plant Pathology, one of the optional courses that can be taken within the Plant Biology MSc. This course is taught by the department of Forest Mycology and Plant Pathology at SLU, has 15 credits and demands 100% time dedication for 10 weeks.

The course aimed to give a general view on different plant pathogens relevant for agriculture including its taxonomy,  biology and ecology. Furthermore, it dealt with topics such as epidemiology, integrated pest management (IPM) and biological control.

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A rust fungus growing on Rowan leaves. I took the picture.

The topics were assessed with lectures, and theoretical exercises in which scientific articles  were read and discussed.  I found particularly interesting a series of articles published by Molecular Plant Pathology in which plant pathogens are ranked according to their economical or scientific importance (you might like to read The Top 10 Pathogens in Plants).

Besides this, we went on different field excursions to learn how diseases look in planta and collected samples to perform diagnosis in the lab. This last  aspect I found very interesting and important for a future career, because as a biologist myself my knowledge of plant diseases important for agricultural crops is not very broad. Hence, I enjoyed very much going out in the fields, see symptoms and signs to later look into the microscope and give a possible diagnosis.

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Cleistothecia from a fungus under the microscope. I took the picture.

Additionally, the course had laboratory work sessions, a case study and a poster presentation session. Overall, I found the course interesting and important to complement my education. Actually, my interest on this topic is so strong that I am considering to pursue a career as a plant pathologist. But one step at a time.

Do not hesitate to ask or comment below,

Best,

Hernán.

 

 

Research training 15c

Before summer I completed “Research Training”, the 4th course of my MSc. This course is basically an internship, and its name clarifies  its aim: provide training in research. The course has 15 credits, and demands  100% time dedication.

In a previous post (read it here) I explained how I started my research training at the Forest Mycology and Plant Pathology Department at SLU and made clear how excited I was with it. After finishing it, I reaffirmed the excitement I had in the beginning,  since the outcome  of the project fulfilled either my expectations and my supervisor’s.

Briefly, the project dealt with Thekopsora areolata, a fungus that causes major losses in Norway spruce seed orchards (read more about the disease here). My first aim was to isolate molecular markers from genomic DNA using a tricky technique called FIASCO (I know, name is funny. Good it was not a fiasco in the end). My second aim was to develop an in vitro  cultivation system. Because T. areolata is a biotrophic pathogen, to be grown in the laboratory it needs a living host, so that makes things a little bit more complicated.  In the end, I was able to achieve the two aims after manyl PCR reactions :).

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The course is no graded, one can only pass or fail. To pass, it is needed to complete a literature task, hand in a written report, show the results in a short  presentation and obviously, the approval of the supervisors. I strongly recommend to take courses like this one. I personally learned A LOT, because had the chance to read in depth about this fungus and gain more expertise in the lab. Actually, it is very likely that I continue with this project as my master thesis. But about that, I will write later on 😉

Best!

Hernán.

 

Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions 15c

I just completed another course, and it is really scary how fast my MSc. has gone by- I’ve been in Sweden for 7 months already 😮 . Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions is the third mandatory course, and takes place in Stockholm University (read more about the previous courses here and here).

During the first weeks I had lectures which covered the  molecular basis of plant relationships with most of its symbionts (Including insects, which was an interesting approach). One of my favorite lectures was given by Roger Finlay, who actually works at SLU but was invited  to Stockholm University. During his lecture he told us how his research group recently published an article in Enviromental Microbiology, in which they demonstrated that ectomycorrhizal fungi colonizing Pinus sylvestris can change the bacterial community growing near to the root.

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Bacterial communities are highly dynamic, changing in time and in presence of different ectomychorrhizal fungi.  Marupakula et al 2015. Enviromental Microbiology. doi: 10.1111/1462-2920.13102

The later 5 weeks of the course were dedicated to the lab project in Edouard Pesquet’s research group . My lab partner and I  tried to prove a hypothesis related to the molecular response of plants to aphids (sucking insects that are vectors for microbial diseases in plants). Although we did not get striking results, we found an interesting response in plant leaves using fluorescent microscopy.

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Arabidopsis leaf under UV microscopy. Picture by Jon Bancic & Hernán Capador

I personally think that plant scientists should take microorganisms more into account when performing research. That is why this course was so interesting: it stressed the importance of microbes when studying plants. However, as in any course it had some minor flaws like lectures taught by PhD students who were not experts in the topic and could not answer some of the questions formulated by my classmates and I. Maybe we are too brilliant 😆 .

Course syllabus can be found here.

Roger Finlay  and collegues article can be read here.

Information about Edouard Pesquet research is here.

Don’t hesitate to ask or comment below!

Cheeeers 🙂

 

Hernán.

Genetic Diversity and Plant Breeding 15c

The second mandatory course of the master’s program is taught by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, and it is called Genetic Diversity and Plant Breeding (Read more about the program here and about the previous course here).

This course was more lecture-intensive than the previous one, which makes learning outcome different. One of the problems with an intensive course in plant genetics or plant breeding is that  laboratory work cannot be performed in such a short time, because usually there are needed at least two generations of plants to evaluate genetic features and this cannot be achieved in two months, even using Arabidopsis thaliana. However, it was possible during the course to locate  one plant gene in using molecular and bioinformatic techniques.

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QTL for traits associated with the gene ERECTA from Arabidopsis thaliana. Picture by Hernán Capador

The first part of the course covered topics related to population genetics and domestication of plants, whilst the second part was focused on plant breeding and QTL mapping. Even though I was not 100% satisfied with this course and find that some of the suggested literature was inaccurate for the proposed objectives (for instance Principles of Plant Genetics and Breeding by Acquaah George), I have to admit that I learned many new and cool things. One of the aspects I liked about this course is that there were many invited lecturers from breeding companies, Swedish governmental agencies, and international organizations. One of my favorite lectures was given by Matti Leino, who does plant-based research for the Swedish Museum of Cultural History. In one of his articles published in Heredity he and his colleagues analyzed pea populations cultivated traditionally by Swedish farmers. They used extant pea samples collected recently in Swedish farms, but also analyzed pea seeds that belong to the seed collection of the Swedish Museum of Cultural History. These seeds have been stored for more than 100 years in sealed glass containers, and believe it or not DNA in those peas is still in good condition.

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Leino MW, Boström E & Hagenblad J. 2013. Twentieth-century changes in the genetic composition of Swedish field pea metapopulations. Heredity. 110:338-346

According to their results, pea populations from the nineteenth century are very homogeneous, probably because of seed exchange between farmers. Contrastingly, extant pea populations are different from each other and tend to form groups according to its geographical origin. This is apparently due to the modernization of Swedish agricultural practices and the usage of new commercial varieties in the twentieth century, that led to a less frequent seed exchange.

I found this article very interesting. You can find it here.

More about the course can be found here.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post? Then comment below 😀

Best!

Hernán.

Plant Growth and Development 15c

As I mentioned in a former post, the master program in Plant Biology is collaborative. Thus, I had the chance to take a course in Uppsala University, which turned out to be tremendous!

The course is called Plant Growth and Development and is taught by the Biology Education Center in Uppsala University. Since it is a 15 credits course the time dedication was 100% during 8 weeks, and I enjoyed every hour of it!

Lectures covered the growth and development of plants from a molecular perspective which makes a lot of sense for me, because the interaction between DNA, RNA and proteins will shape cells and determine their function. The first half of the course was lecture-intensive, hence  we started to unveil in a logical manner the importance of meristems, the development of roots, vascular tissues, leaves and flowers. Lectures were combined with journal clubs, where we read scientific articles published in prominent journals. There, we had the opportunity to dig into more specific topics and learn about current techniques and methods used by plant scientists. Personally, my favorite article was from Mason and collaborators (2014), in which they demonstrate that apical dominance in plants is not regulated by auxins –as it was thought to be for many years, but by sugars produced in photosynthesis.

Animation by Hernán Capador. When decapitation of the tip occurs, sugars travel from old leaves to axilar buds and promote branching . Based on Mason et al., 2014

The later part of the course was laboratory-intensive. This allowed me and my lab-partner to focus  on a project full-time. We decided to evaluate the effect of light on one transcription factor in the root of Arabidopsis thaliana. It sounds ambitious, I know. However, we did prove our hypothesis using techniques such as RNA extraction, real-time PCR, NBT root staining and light microscopy in just two months, but many hours in the laboratory. At the end of the period when we had to present the results it felt great, mainly because I realized how much did I learned about plants in such a short period, but also because we obtained the highest possible grade on the research project and had lots of fun 😀 .

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Figure by Jon Bancic & Hernán Capador. Roots of different mutants of A. thaliana stained with NBT.

I hope you liked this post and the animation I made myself! I have to admit it… I spent a lot of time on it. But look at it again, please. Isn’t it beautiful? 😛

More information about the course can be found here

Please, do not hesitate to comment or ask something below!

Cheers!

Hernán.