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July 12, 2017

Anne-Sophie Bohrer: Fascination of plants

July 12, 2017

Anne-Sophie Bohrer is a postdoctoral research associate in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology department and has been a postdoctoral research associate at MSU for four years.

On May 20, she was recently the coordinator of the Fascination of Plants Day, that was celebrated for the first time at MSU. FoPD is an international event launched by the European Plant Science Organization in more than 50 countries to promote plant sciences and highlight their importance for agriculture, food production, horticulture, energy and pharmaceuticals. This year was the fourth edition of FoPD.

I really enjoy any opportunity to do science communication and outreach because I get to talk about science in a non-scientific way, without the jargon that can be overwhelming for a general audience. It is a lot of fun and always challenging and I often end up learning something new and improving from talking with the public.

I recently got involved with the Fascination of Plants Day @ MSU event thanks to Bjoern Hamberger, assistant professor in the BMB department. He had participated in previous editions with his former lab in Denmark and thought that it would be a great outreach opportunity for MSU plant scientists.

I volunteered as soon as I heard about it and became the event coordinator. We only had a couple of months to set the date, find the place to host the event, advertise the event and recruit volunteers willing to come talk about plant sciences.

Very rapidly, we came up with the main themes that we believe are essential when it comes to plant sciences: photosynthesis, nutrition, reproduction, plant-pathogens interactions, evolution, secondary metabolites and, the most important in my opinion, plant DNA and GMOs as the tools researchers use daily in their lab.

group of student volunteersOnce the themes were chosen, we called for volunteers to set up small experiments and hands-on activities to present to the public. In a few days, we gathered 30 volunteers! As the event coordinator, I also raised funds to help with the organization of the event: we are truly thankful to the VPRGS, the CNS, the BMB, PSMS and Plant Biology departments and the PRL for their help.

The activities presented at the event were amazing: visitors could extract DNA from fruit and learn about the GMOs that we use in the lab as a daily tool for our research. They learned about plant development, seed germination and the evolution of plants. Visitors could also learn about photosynthesis and measure it with the PhotosynQ platform developed at MSU in David Kramer’s lab.

We had a lot of activities under the plant-pathogens interactions theme: observations of fungi and common diseases found on crop cultures and a hands-on activity on spores’ dispersion. The secondary metabolites theme highlighted MSU’s research on plant species with medicinal interests and how so many products we use daily are actually plant-based.

We had 100 visitors that day, from all ages and all backgrounds. I am thrilled that the FoPD @ MSU was such a success: I truly believe that it is our responsibility as scientists to educate the public. Even better if it is in a fun and engaging way. It is so easy nowadays to be misinformed that events such as the FoPD or the Science Festival are a great way for people to (re)discover science and be more aware of their surroundings. It is also a great opportunity for us to show them that plant sciences are very diverse and actually affect their daily lives, without them realizing it.

As a postdoc, it can sometimes be challenging to talk about my job with family and friends, because it is very specific and specialized. Events like FoPD are a great platform for researchers to fill this gap and bring science to the public. And it also allows us to understand what the public wants to know and what concerns they might have.

The plant sciences community at MSU is predominant and I really hope that, with this first event, we started a new tradition at MSU. And it makes me truly happy that we were able to show that plants are indeed fascinating!