I have a strong interest in the issue of food security and hope to address some of the growing problems facing global food provision through my scientific work. My education has provided me with the skills to explore the future stability of agricultural systems using a pluristic approach, at the molecular, cellular, organismal and biophysical levels. I am currently reading for a DPhil project researching plant metabolic networks, and the genetic modification of these systems to improve crop production within Professor Lee Sweetlove's lab group .
Blackheart is an increasing problem for UK potato growers and the grocery sector. The condition occurs during post-harvest storage and is a result of the death of cells in the central region of the tuber. The accompanying oxidation of phenolic compounds upon exposure to air results in the characteristic black appearance and leads crop wastage. Little is known about the underlying cause of blackheart or the reasons behind its varying prevalence in the tuber crop from year to year. Blackheart is not thought to be caused by a pathogen but can be triggered under by exposing tubers to increased temperatures and restricting the supply of oxygen to them, suggesting that cell death could be the result of anoxia in the tuber centre. My research project will explore the link between blackheart, the size and regulation of carbohydrate reserves in these cells and the extent to which they experience sustained hypoxia.
The project will involve biochemical analysis of tuber carbohydrate and their metabolism, advanced imaging techniques to analyse tuber-centre biochemistry non-destructively and the construction of a computational model to predict the susceptibility of different tubers to the formation of blackheart during storage. The project will also aim to generate genetically modified tubers that have reduced susceptibility to blackheart.