We are delighted to have two new people joining our team at Agri-TechE: Allie Rukin and Erica Hawkins.
Allie will be an Events and Admin Assistant working closely with Fiona and Becky. Allie joins us from the equestrian clothing company EQUUS, where she was the customer and operations team leader.
We asked Allie about her interest in agriculture.
“I have always had a passion for agriculture and will always be out on a farm as much as I can. When I was younger, my mother kept her horse on a working farm and that is where the spark came from. I would either be feeding the lambs, checking out the tractors or helping with the horses.
“Later, I spent time on a citrus farm in Queensland, Australia and learnt all about budding new trees and creating new citrus varieties to suit the climate. It was there that I experienced first-hand the challenges farmers face in extreme climates and how farmers need to be innovators to survive natural disasters and changing climates.
“I was attracted to the role at Agri-TechE because it meant I would be spending time with like-minded people and being part of a team which are leading the way to bring new tech ideas, and share a vision to create positive change for farming.
“I am most looking forward to meeting members and researchers, learning about what goes on behind the scenes. Agriculture is always a topic that is open for discussion when it comes to climate change and I am excited to be a part of a team which enables the chance for change in a positive way.”
Erica is joining us as a Post-Doc placement from the John Innes Centre, as she is part of the FTMA scheme (Flexibility Talent Mobility Award scheme) that offers researchers short-term placements in industry.
We asked Erica about her work at JIC.
“I was working on a project – split between the labs of Prof. Cathie Martin (JIC) and Dr Jelena Gavrilovic (UEA) – to engineer a tomato to produce high levels of two compounds: resveratrol and pterostilbene. These compounds both have a huge range of beneficial medical properties and I was also investigating the effects this tomato juice would have on humans using a skin model.
“I then joined the lab of Dr David Seung as a postdoctoral researcher to look at how starch is made in wheat.
“Starch is super important for us, it is the main carbohydrate in our diet and can be used in a wide range of industrial processes. Despite this, there are still many unknowns surrounding how starch is made-particularly in cereal grains.
“By improving our understanding of how starch is made, we may be able to identify targets that would enable us to manipulate starch properties such as shape, size and number of granules and tailor its structure for specific end uses.
Sharing skills between industry and academia
“I am coming to Agri-TechE as part of the FTMA scheme (flexibility talent mobility award scheme), it is designed to help early career researchers, like me, gain experience of industry, and also to share skills between academic and industrial settings. The short, 3-month placement, in an industrial setting, gives us the opportunity to learn more about industry in general and gain skills which we wouldn’t be able to in the lab.
“I know of several postdocs who have participated in the FTMA scheme and they have had placements in smaller companies, such as Leaf Expression Systems based in Norwich. There have also been people coming from other direction – from industry to academia. There is more information about the scheme on the JIC website: What is the Flexible Talent Mobility Award Scheme?
Agri-TechE bridges the gap
“I first heard about Agri-TechE during my PhD, as I participated in a outreach event that had been organised between researchers at the JIC and young farmers. During my time in academia I have seen really amazing science being undertaken at the JIC, and can see the great potential for this science in the commercial setting. However, taking research from lab through to the field can be hard, and there are often a lot of barriers in the way. I was particularly interested in Agri-TechE as they are helping to bridge this gap between academia and industry, and really improve the communication between these two settings to help develop connections and translate science from the lab to the field.
“With this internship I hope learn more about the interface between agri-business and academia and also to develop a great understanding of what and why limitations occur.
“It will be particularly interesting to see this from a different perspective to understand my own preconceptions and the more general academic misconceptions of industry needs. I hope as well, that I can in turn offer a different perspective – as someone who has worked within academia and understands how science within the lab works and progresses.”