University of Dundee

Double Success for Plant Sciences PhD student Charlotte Hurst

08 Aug 2017

Charlotte Hurst has been recognised for her research and science communication work by the Society for Experimental Biology (SEB) and the Biochemical Society respectively. Charlotte was named Young Plant Scientist of the Year at the SEB Annual Meeting in Gothenburg, Sweden last month and shortlisted for the Biochemical Society Science Communication competition, video category.

”I was delighted to have been selected to give a talk at the SEB, winning this award has reminded me how much I enjoy what I do and it’s really great to get recognition for all the hard work I’ve done. Making the science communication video with the lab was really great fun and we were all very excited to get shortlisted by the Biochemical society.”

Young Plant Scientist of the Year

Charlotte, a final year PhD student in Piers Hemsley’s laboratory in Plant Sciences, was one of three students selected from across the world to present their research for the award.

“I am particularly interested in the post-translational protein modification S-acylation, and how it affects plant receptor-like kinase family members. Receptor-like kinases allow the plants to sense and respond to their environment. The receptor-like kinase I work on is FLS2, which is specifically involved in the plant immune system. During my PhD I found that C-terminally epitope-tagged FLS2 constructs show variable effects on FLS2 signalling outputs such as MAPK activation, ROS burst and changes in gene expression in response to the bacterial protein flagellin. This hitherto unappreciated effect calls into question the use of epitope tagged receptor like kinases in functional assays. I have therefore had to develop alternative strategies to study FLS2 function.

As part of my PhD work I also improved upon existing S-acylation detection protocols to allow me to quantitatively assay changes in FLS2 S-acylation. I was only then able to show that there was an increase in FLS2 S-acylation upon treating Arabidopsis with the bacterial protein flagellin. Taking this further, I determined which components of the FLS2 signalling pathway are required for FLS2 S-acylation to occur. I have also generated plant lines where FLS2 cannot be S-acylated to investigate how S-acylation affects downstream signalling outputs. This has allowed me to unpick the function of S-acylation in the plant immune system and illustrates an entirely new mechanism regulating one of the largest families of proteins in plants” explained Charlotte. “It is important to understand how plants protect themselves from infection, including how they perceive pathogens, as it is vital for maintaining food yields as part of the wider food security agenda”                      

Biochemical Society Science Communication Competition

Charlotte, along with fellow lab members Dionne Turnbull and Kerry Leslie, took part in the Biochemical Society Science Communication Competition. “The competition asks entrants to create an engaging written article or video explaining biomolecular topics to the general public.” Charlotte submitted an entry to the video category, ‘A week in the life of a plant scientist: the Hemsley lab investigates protein S-acylation’. Their entry was shortlisted from “a high-quality pool of entries by a panel of expert judges including Professor Steve Busby, Dr Kat Arney and Jonathan Sanderson”. To see what a plant scientist gets up to check out the entry in the research section of Piers Hemsley's profile

The Charlottes new methodology was recently published in Biotechniques:

Find out more about the other entries and winners of the Biochemical Society Science Communication Competition: