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June 24, 2019

Anne-Sophie Bohrer: For the love of plants

June 26, 2019

Anne-Sophie Bohrer is a senior postdoctoral research associate at MSU in the lab of associate professor Hideki Takahashi in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Her work for the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center focuses on the metabolic profiling of switchgrass, a bioenergy crop of interest for the sustainable production of biofuel and high-value bioproducts.

It was another Saturday morning. I woke up to my cat asking for food — at 6:55 a.m., 5 minutes before the alarm would go off. The only difference that day? It was May 18 and Fascination of Plants Day.

Considering my role as a postdoctoral researcher at MSU studying plant biology, that day holds a certain significance for me! Beyond the exciting possibility for me and MSU plant scientists to share our amazing work with the public, I have been the lead event coordinator of FoPD at MSU for three years now.

Fascination of Plants Day is an international initiative promoted by the European Plant Science Organization. EPSO encourages plant scientists to share their research with the public and emphasize the impact and applications of plant science in our daily lives.

The first FoPD@MSU came about in 2017 thanks to Björn Hamberger, who suggested that MSU should host the event. After all, MSU is one of the leading institutes in plant sciences in the U.S. with a strong community of incredible plant scientists. When I heard Björn was looking for help organizing the event at MSU, I volunteered immediately.

With only three months to build and promote our first edition from the ground up, we gathered 30 volunteers and welcomed 100 visitors. In 2018, 60 volunteers had the chance to share their research and interact with over 200 visitors. Both events were hosted on south campus, in the Molecular Plant Sciences building, which can be difficult to find if you are not familiar with the area.

Following the second edition of FoPD@MSU, we were eager to strengthen our engagement within the local community and increase the visibility of Fascination of Plants Day beyond MSU’s campus, so we contacted the MSU Broad Art Museum, whose interdisciplinary work with artists and scientists had proven to be successful in the past. Once we pitched FoPD@MSU and how we could benefit from their expertise, our partnership began, and they excitedly agreed to assist with organizing and promoting the 2019 edition.

This year we hosted the event at their newest location on Grand River, the MSU Broad Art Lab, a laboratory that fosters creative thinking and “help bring [ideas] to life.”

Shortly after, this partnership led to a collaboration with the East Lansing Art Festival. We were able to feature a fun, interactive activity to boost awareness of FoPD in the Children’s area of the Art Festival. Nicknamed the “smelling station,” this activity has visitors identify which plants produce which scent. It was quite impressive to see young children notice the difference between lemongrass, lime and lemon!

The overarching goal for this year's FoPD@MSU was to bridge plant sciences and the arts. It doesn’t seem obvious at first, but research is a highly creative process. The 60 volunteers who participated this year came up with innovative ideas to engage over 500 visitors of all ages. To name a few, attendees could extract DNA from strawberries and model DNA with candies, play a matching game between seeds and plants and create their own herbarium or craft flower pots from newspaper to grow sunflowers.

Beyond the fun hands-on activities, volunteers had the chance to discuss their work and inform the public of research happening at MSU. Most importantly, these early-career scientists raised awareness on key issues that impact all of us; a booth on plant domestication highlighted the drastic changes between wild crops and their domesticated versions we consume today, while addressing the impact of climate change on plant development.

Chrislyn Particka and Rebecca Blundell introduced the mission of the GLBRC, a bioenergy research center funded by the U.S. Department of Energy which aims at developing sustainable and economical biofuels and bioproducts from bioenergy crops grown on marginal lands (i.e. lands not suitable for food production).

The success of FoPD@MSU comes from the interest, enthusiasm and involvement of all the undergraduate and graduate students, postdocs and faculty members who volunteered that day. It takes a significant amount of effort and time to organize, coordinate and host an event this large, and I am very grateful for my co-organizers and our sponsors.

My only hope is that the success of FoPD@MSU will keep growing and continue to gain traction in the future. I am already planning for next year’s edition, working with the graduate students from the Molecular Plant Sciences program at MSU to ensure the long-lasting future of FoPD@MSU. I probably won’t be at MSU forever, but plants will always be fascinating, and it is worth celebrating!

Thank you to the sponsors of the 2019 FoPD@MSU: Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies, the College of Natural Science, the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratories, the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, the Molecular Plant Sciences graduate program, the National Science Foundation and the American Society of Plant Biologists.