What inspires plant scientists and why is their job so important? José Miguel Mulet explains:
Why did you want to become a plant scientist?
When I was studying, I wanted to work in biomedical research, but I did an internship in a plant molecular biology laboratory and I liked it. I also thought that plant research could be more useful. Increasing agricultural production can save more lives than curing cancer.
What crops do you study?
I work in basic research, and we use the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, searching for genes that may be a determining factor of drought tolerance. We have collaborations with other groups to use the genes we discover in plants of agronomic interest such as tomato.
What impact do pests and diseases have on the crops you are working on?
I work in a greenhouse, and we always have pest problems. We have tried different strategies, either the use of chemicals or biological control. I do not automatically rule either out. When there is a problem you must find a solution, and not get caught up on whether it is natural or artificial.
What does your job entail?
I did my doctoral thesis on salinity tolerance, using baker’s yeast as a model system, then I worked on drought and cold tolerance and succeeded in identifying different genes that could be key for developing plants that are tolerant to this type of stress. Recently, in collaboration with Professor Lynne Yenush, we have obtained a project of the national plan in which we are going to investigate the regulation of potassium transport in plants. Besides being a nutrient, potassium is responsible for regulating the opening and closure of the guard cells of the stomata, which help to regulate the rate of transpiration. More efficient regulation means better use of water, and therefore a saving of water.
How is plant science used to protect crops?
We try to find genes that allow us to develop drought tolerant transgenic plants, or that make more efficient use of farming’s most precious resource – water.
Why is your profession important in the challenge of feeding the world?
Agriculture could not exist without technology, and we will never feed the world if we give up technology. Basic science is essential to then be able to develop applications.
What inspires you in your work?
The work of great scientists such as Norman Borlaug or Barbara McClintock, or people I have met and who have been a source of inspiration, like my thesis director Ramón Serrano
Jose is a lecturer at the Polytechnic University of Valencia and author of numerous books related to biotechnology and agriculture.