Dr Franziska Fichtner is a postdoctoral researcher in Professor Christine Beveridge’s lab at The University of Queensland Node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Plant Success in Nature and Agriculture. Franzi specialises in plant metabolism and sugar-signalling.
Where do you work and what is it like living in your city?
I am working at the University of Queensland located in Brisbane (Australia). Brisbane is very nice, relaxed city stretched around the Brisbane River. River life is great, and the many sunny days are a blast, especially when coming from Germany. Brisbane is located only 1 hour away from the Gold Coast with its legendary beaches. Whenever I need a break to relax, I drive down to the beach and enjoy the sea.
What is your current research question?
My research focuses on the connection between the plant’s metabolism and its phenotype. More specifically I am interested in how the sucrose–specific signal trehalose 6–phosphate (Tre6P) regulates plant development dependent on carbon status. Tre6P is a very low abundance signalling metabolite that is universal in plants and exerts control over many metabolic and developmental processes. My work has revealed that Tre6P synthesis occurs predominantly in the vasculature of the whole plant, including growing and expanded stems, leaves and roots as well as meristematic parts of the shoot tip and axillary buds. Tre6P is therefore ideally placed at the interface between source and sink and at a highly strategic site for systemic signalling of sucrose/carbon status. We further found that changing Tre6P in the vasculature modulated both flowering and branching, and did so by interacting with photoperiodic signalling and by altering sucrose allocation. In my current position, I aim to establish if Tre6P is indeed a hormone–like signal and how it interacts with other phytohormone signalling pathways to regulate shoot and root branching in Arabidopsis (Arabidopsis thaliana) and pea (Pisum sativum).
How is the research going?
It is actually going very well. At the moment I am working on two projects in parallel with both of them highlighting different connections between sugar signalling and strigolactone signalling pathways. For example, I have very interesting results about how trehalose 6–phosphateregulates branching by interacting with the strigolactone signalling pathway. In addition, I am investigating how sugar transport and allocation regulates plant architecture and have just discovered an unexpected and very cool phenotype in some of my branching mutants.
What is the best part about being a researcher?
I love the freedom to study and work on what really interests me. There are so many more things to discover and we do not know what (plant) science will have achieved in 10 years. I am very excited to be part of this community. Also, I love that we can work everywhere in the world without problems. There are only few jobs that can offer these possibilities.
What is the worst?
I think one of the hardest parts is the insecurity. It is quite challenging to find a permanent position in science and to be successful you must publish very well which puts a lot of pressure on all our shoulders. I always take work home with me, either physically (printed papers or my laptop) or mentally. It is hard to take your mind off work sometimes.
What is your favourite experiment?
I really enjoy exploring new phenotypes of Arabidopsis plants, especially when I am investigating the developmental and metabolic profile of new mutants or double mutant combinations. The most interesting part is to find very unexpected phenotypes and to place them in the existing network of developmental regulation or even to elucidate that the current model has to be redrawn completely. I am currently running a large–scale experiment with many different double and triple mutants in which I am not only analyzing their developmental phenotype but also investigate their metabolic and transcriptional profile. So far, many unexpected results came up. Now I am trying to mine all these data sets to find new key players in connecting Tre6P with hormonal regulation of plant development.
Describe a day in your life
I am a huge coffee addict, so my workday definitely starts with a nice barista coffee. After replying to emails, solving admin problems, and helping my students out, I usually tour through the lab and check on all my current experiments. At the moment, I spend some hours each day on phenotyping while other days I am doing sugar extractions and/or measurements before finishing the day with reading papers. I also really enjoy writing days during which I block the whole day to work on papers or grant applications. The evenings are usually quite relaxed. However, I became a trivia geek here in Australia and enjoy the Tuesday evening quiz nights in our local pub.
Where do you see yourself 5 years from today?
I would love to have become a professor in 5 years. In October I will establish my own junior research group on the role of trehalose 6–phosphate in plant developmental regulation at the
University of Duesseldorf and as part of the Cluster of Excellence on Plant Science (https://www.ceplas.eu/en ). I am very excited about this possibility and hope this new position and challenge will bring me closer to my goal of becoming a professor in the future.
Any advice for up-and-coming plant researchers?
Never give up. We all have been through hard times and throwbacks. I think especially the PhD is a tough time as you have this feeling that your whole life depends on it. I can only recommend current and future PhD students to go through with it. Postdoc life is so much nicer without the pressure of writing your thesis. It gives you the opportunity to really focus on your research. Find something you love that takes your mind of work. As I mentioned about, to me it is being at the sea. This always takes the pressure off.
If you could start your life over, what would you be doing right now?
Back in the days I was actually thinking to study medicine but then ended up with biology for different reasons. I never regretted my decision though and think I would decide exactly the
same if given the choice. I maybe would have moved to Australia a year earlier as I will be starting my new job as a junior group leader in October and would have loved to have a longer postdoc time Down Under.
Can you share your recommendations on what to look for in a Post–doc lab/supervisor?
It is always good to spend a day with the supervisor/lab and go with everybody for lunch and/or dinner. Like this it is easier to see if you feel welcome and if the supervisor and you would be
a good fit. I think it is also very important that your supervisor has time for you and is not too busy.
Are there any specific events that you experienced as a woman in science?
I do not recall any specific events, however, have experienced myself that it is indeed a struggle to be a woman in science, probably as much as it is being a woman in any male dominated occupation. With my own group I would like to promote women and underrepresented groups in science to increase diversity. If we all try our best to promote more women, hopefully future generations of women will not have to struggle so hard.
What is your favourite group in the Plant kingdom? And why?
I always liked legumes. I find it amazing that they can form a symbiosis with Rhizobia or other bacteria to fix their own nitrogen from the air. One aspect that is currently worked on at The University of Queensland is to increase the diversity of legume species for human consumption. I think this is a very important step to breed plants for the future needs of the planet.
By Haim Treves
Reposted with permission from the Society for Experimental Biology, view the original post here.