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Working as a summer intern for Vivent over the past few weeks has been such a great experience. I’ve learnt about everything from grant applications to electrical signalling, yet I think the most important discovery I’ve made is how wonderful it is to work with plants.

The first thing I’ve realised is how unpredictable plants are. They never seem to do the same thing twice. At some point in my experiment I could have sworn the tomato plants were playing tricks on me with their changing ways. Then I realised that’s what makes them so interesting – from afar they seem motionless, sessile, and even tame organisms, but once I started measuring their electrical signals I realised they are just so incredibly sensitive. Even if plants are temperamental, when you manage to reproduce a result, see a pattern or correctly predict their behaviour it makes the discovery much more exciting.

The second thing I began to see is how relaxing working with plants can be. Unless you’ve plugged a speaker into the Phytl Signs device, measuring the plants electrical signal is actually quite peaceful.

A lot of my experimentation with tomato plants has required patience- something which I’ve begun to embrace. If a month ago you would have told me that my summer experience would, in part, consist of brushing plant trichomes repeatedly for an hour I would have sighed out of dismay at the probable boredom I would face. But when I actually started, I realised how calming it was. Unless you’re a tomato plant, the smell of methyl jasmonate as you brush the plant is a smell of freshness;  if you are a tomato plant I imagine the smell of methyl jasmonate is quite stressful… It means imminent attack.

The third great thing about working with plants, especially ones that we grow as crops, is that you can eat them! The tomatoes on the plants I’ve been working with over the plant few weeks have begun to ripen and so I’ll be enjoying their produce soon.

Observing tomatoes' response to stimulating trichomes

Observing tomatoes’ response to stimulating trichomes

My first real experience in the world of plant physiology has been memorable. As a biology student I’d never expected to be playing with electrodes or brushing plants with paintbrushes, but working with plants has definitely made me realise that with every discovery there are many more questions to answer- which means they’ll be plenty more subjects for me to explore in the future.

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