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Q:
I am working to get a degree in btech with an emphasis in plants. I have become interested in plant transformation and genomics. What might be some good careers ideas either in industry or academia?

A:Expert Answer

Skills in plant tissue culture and genomics are very useful! Consider yourself lucky (and/or smart) to have those interests.

 

It seems clear you recognize these are very broad ideas. As you develop these skills, you may be surprised by what careers you become suited for. Until I found my first job in plant biotech, I never once considered myself as disposed to plant research. At this stage, think of your newfound skills as broadening your range of opportunity, not narrowing.

 

That said, there are many specific ways to apply those interests. Far too many to list. My research uses genomics to deduce flavor biosynthesis genes in strawberry (and other traits). I have friends who use those same tools to study the effects of natural genome-duplication in wild species. Others use genomics to study how variations in basic cellular processes (like alternative splicing) may affect plant traits. Some plant breeding labs use genomics tools to help create entirely new crops, using wild plants that have so-far been ignored by agriculture. Both traditional breeding and genetic engineering rely heavily on genomics. Nowadays, every plant researcher needs excellent skills in this area.

 

Just the same, plant transformation is essential to both industry and academic plant science labs. The best way to study a system is often to perturb it. Academics frequently use genetic engineering to study every aspect of plant biology, from photosynthesis to nutrient storage to stress tolerance. New transformation techniques like CRISPR are increasing the power of these skills, and also the demand for them. On the industry side, plant transformation is often performed at an incredible scale to generate a lot of evidence for proof-of-concept studies. Those same tissue culture skills are also used in other aspects of plant industry, including modern plant breeding and the planting of clonally propagate crops like potatoes and ornamental flowers.

 

As your work toward your degree continues, you will become exposed to other outlets for your skills. See what graduates of your program are doing. Ask your professors. If you haven’t already, immerse yourself in undergraduate research. When reading a research paper, dive deep into to the methods section. Find out what you can about the actual work involved. Imagine in detail what the day-to-day might have looked like for that researcher. Before you decide what speaks to you, remember it’s often the tedious work that pays off most in the end.

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