International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2023

11 Feb 2023
Collage of NIAB Scientists for International Day of Women and Girls in Science
Today is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science – a day that NIAB has been supporting for several years now. In recognition of this, earlier this week we took our camera along and spent a day with some of our women scientists in the Powell Building at Park Farm in Histon, Cambridge, documenting some of the work they are up to.

First of we headed to NIAB Labtest, here we found Amanda Southwell checking for the detection of Pseudomonas savastanoi pv. Phaseolicola in bean seed. 

In the last few years we’ve all become familiar with PCR tests to test for Covid, but today Sofia was using PCR tests to identify if Barley seed has two fungal diseases - net blotch and leaf stripe present. 

‘We are doing the tests for customers mostly in the UK, to give them early detection of diseases therefore providing a better quality of seed.’ explains Amanda.

Next to Sofia, Pravina was carrying out DNA extraction to check the variety of oilseed rape, giving piece of mind to growers that they’re getting what they pay for.

Moving onto some of our commercial LabTest services, Javiera was counting seed for germination tests in spring barley and Mihaela was using a machine called a Hamilton liquid handler and testing potatoes for virusus using ELISA method. Most of the potatoes are from farmers, and Mihaela was testing that the level of viral infection was below a threshold, so that the potatoes can be deemed good enough for sale/planting for next season.


Some of NIAB's scientists in action

After we’d finished up in the LabTest it was over to the Official Seed Testing Station (OSTS). Established in 1917, The OSTS at NIAB is designated by the Animal and Plant Health Agency as an Official Seed Testing Laboratory for England and Wales and is contracted to carry out ISTA tests for customers on behalf of APHA. To enable the OSTS to carry out this function the laboratory at Cambridge is accredited and audited by the International Seed Testing Association.

Here we see recently qualified seed analyst Dani evaluating germination tests of poppy seed. She is taking off and counting normal seedlings. Asia is purifying a sample of wheat for various disease and and germination tests.

Blythe is following ISTA methods, checking a minimum of 250g of watermelon seed for any other seed, and impurities as part of OSTS’ testing for issuing an Orange International Certificate for seed export. Anna is planting perennial ryegrass on to paper pads for germination testing. Usually, 4 x 100 seeds are planted to accurately assess the samples germination as a percentage. This test is placed in an incubator at 20-30C  and is evaluated at 5 and 10 days. The seedlings are recorded as normal, abnormal, fresh, hard or dead.

Over in the MacLeod Complex, NIAB’s state-of-the-art Glasshouse facilities Camilla Clay is harvesting wheat ears ready for preparation so that we can analyse the seeds, looking at the starch levels in the grain.

NIAB is of course a plant science organisation, but we can’t function without a team supporting our scientists. Shelley provides brilliant front desk support to the whole of our Park Farm complex - we couldn't fucntion without her!

Away from Park Farm, we also put some questions to three of our scientists at East Malling, Kent. Let Cindayniah Godfrey, Nengi Lawson and Ece Moustafa explain all about their jobs, how they got into science and their tips if you want to be become a scientist.

And this is just a snapshot of some of the science going on at NIAB!