One year in Madison

Today marks the end of my first year in graduate school at UW-Madison. On June 4th, 2007, I showed up in the lab to get to work on my research project. I had a fun an interesting field season and a summer getting myself oriented in Madison. I started filming (well, I wasn’t the one with the camera) for my plant breeding videos, and soon enough my two classes started up in the fall. I took the first statistics course, STAT 571 and what could only be described as the genetic engineering course, Hort/Agronomy 550.

Following a brief spat of research sans-coursework in January, it was back to another semester of classes, this time two classes plus a lab and a seminar. I had the second level of statistics, course 572, and the other side of the plant improvement coin, Hort/Agronomy 501, plant breeding. Along with it came Hort 502, the plant breeding techniques class, which was not so much about techniques as it was a series of guest lectures on everything from stealing turf grass from golf courses, to hybrid maize and the 5 genes that made it what it was, and of all things – how to breed shitake mushrooms, and plan carrot collection trips to Asia. Finally, I gave my first seminar talk on RNA technology and attended some interesting ones given by other students.

I now know how to take many kinds of data and make it meaningful, even if the graph doesn’t look like anything at first sight. I now know how to breed several cute little plants, and how to set up a breeding structure to hunt down useful traits, and all about the mysteries of Heterosis.

I know all the steps I would need to take to isolate any gene I want, tweak it, and transform it into a plant, and make it do my bidding. Muh ha ha hah…

I also know how not to give a seminar. Hehe, I didn’t do that bad, got a good grade for my first run, but I can’t wait for my next try at this!

In lab, I’ve learned a few odd procedures, and have become intimately familiar with my little arm of a maize chromosome (and its corresponding region in Sorghum), which I delve into almost daily.

I’ve made my first PCR primers, got most of them to work, and used them to make DNA sequencing reactions. The results of these, in fact the first one of these, turned into my very first molecular marker, and I’ll tell you all how to make them for yourselves, should you have the inclination, or the thermocycler. No really, molecular markers are cool!

Just in time for the 1-year mark, I screened my DNA samples with this marker and narrowed the region around my gene just a hair. Actually, it was only just a hair. I need to make more markers farther in. That’s what I’m going to be doing in June.

In the video arena, I helped make a recruiting video for the PBPG program, starred in and narrated my first pollination methods video. You don’t get to see it yet because we have to make a web-suitable version. Stay tuned. I helped interview one professor and one dean about their work on maize and peppers, for two more videos that have just been completed. This week, we’re figuring out our filming schedule for the summer – I’m hoping to get a lot done this year!

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Karl Haro von Mogel

Karl Haro von Mogel serves as BFI’s Director of Science and Media and as Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. He has a PhD in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from UW-Madison with a minor in Life Sciences Communication. He is currently a Postdoctoral Scholar researching citrus genetics at UC Riverside.

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