Hongfei @ETH

Since the start of her PhD here @WUR, Hongfei Li is interested in shoot-root communication under salt stress, with a special focus on a salt tolerance champion, the halophyte species Schrenkiella parvula. Carbon, as an important carrier of energy is fixed by photosynthesis in shoots and transported from shoot (source) to root (sink). Carbon export to roots of parvula compared with Arabidopsis is therefore interesting for us. The groups of Dr. Diana Santelia and Prof. Samuel C. Zeeman in ETH Zurich have great experience in studying carbon metabolism in response to environmental changes and have the radioactive lab facilities to trace carbon allocation in vivo by labeling plants with 14C. Therefore we proposed a visit of 3 months from September to December in 2021 to their labs and it was granted by an EMBO exchange scholarship (Thanks!).

Hongfei looking at a huge map of molecular pathways.

Hongfei: “The senior PhD student Luca in the lab of Dr. Diana Santelia showed me around and later he was always my mentor ad helped with anything I didn’t know in the lab. The girls team Trang and Lucia also generously provided their help. To learn the measurements of starch and soluble sugars, I did pilot experiments with Lucia who also wanted to learn the protocol. This was a true challenge but we managed to puzzle it out and did our measurements in the end. Everything needs extra attention in radioactive lab when working with 14C. The half-life of 14C is 5,730 years and you don’t want it spill it to anywhere since it’s impossible to be removed completely. There is tight control and many rules to guarantee the contamination would not happen. I am very happy I teamed up with Carlo, a first-year PhD student who also wanted to learn how to perform 14C. Together, we optimized the setup for my experiments. We actually had many deep conversations about life since we cannot use our phones easily there and the tedious work kept our hands busy but mind free. So I have many thanks to say to the help and company of Carlo:) “

In the lab meetings, Hongfei learned more about carbon metabolism in plants not limited to stress conditions and received valuable feedback on our study about the carbon allocation under salt stress. In the end all efforts paid off as we discovered that parvula performed better than Arabidopsis with respect to carbon allocation to roots under salinity stress… (see our pre-print “Effective root responses to salinity stress include maintained cell expansion and carbon allocation”!).

Hongfei: “Three months went really fast. Due to the help from everyone in the group, I could perform my experiments in a new lab with techniques I did not know before. The company from the lab mates made my stay in Zurich an amazing experience. During coffee breaks, I had great conversations with the group where they recommend nice restaurants museums and hiking places and I really enjoyed the gathering for bubble teas, panettones, pocket coffee, chocolates and anything sweet. ETH is located halfway up the hill and where I live is even at the top of the hill. So my stay in Zurich is a great opportunity to strengthen my knees which are spoiled in the Netherlands. Hope I would get a chance to revisit the group soon :)”

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