I'd love to do a science talk at your school. If you'd like me to come have your teacher email me, firstname.lastname@example.org Follow me on <a href="https://twitter.com/glyn_barrett ">twitter</a>
Lycee International de St Germain en Laye, near Paris, France (91-96); Middlesex University (96-2000); University of Reading (2005-2012)
GCSEs including Maths, French, History, English Lit.; International Baccalureat; BSc Business Finance; BSc Environmental Biology; PhD Bacterial Genetics & Plant Pathology
Paid jobs: Banks and hotels in the Sultanate of Oman, Beirut, France and England following my first degree. Rothamsted Agricultural Research Institute and the University of Reading; Voluntary jobs include the WWF in Pakistan, Dolphin Conservation in Cambodia and the Hampshire Wildlife Trust.
Working on cleaning up pollution using bacteria
Favourite thing to do in my job Doing talks, explaining and sharing science! If any body wants me to do a talk at your school let me know :)
I want to find out how really dangerous bacteria live inside plants.
Bacteria live everywhere, in the air, up your nose, between your toes … and on plants!
Some bacteria are friendly and helpful while others are dangerous and might be out to get you!
By accident, some of these dangerous ones (like E. coli) get onto the plants that we eat (like lettuce) and sometimes we get ill because of this.
I want to find out how these bacteria manage to live on these plants to help stop this happening in the future.
To do this I grow lots of different types of plants in my greenhouse and put genetically modified bacteria onto them and record what happens over time.
My Typical Day
Busily running between the greenhouse and the lab, discovering cool things under the microscope and using lots of high-tech machines.
Work day always starts with a run, breakfast (most important meal of the day) and a nice cup of tea!
Just like us bacteria need food, shelter and time to grow so every morning I check on my bacteria growing on Petri dishes (they sound almost like pets – well almost). If they are fit and well, I can take use some of these for experiments which I do during the day using a load of space-age machines and high-tech instruments. If I have any plants growing I might have to water them or feed them to make sure they are healthy in case I might need them in the near future.
Quite often I have to put my bacteria into a freezer which goes down to -80C (colder than Antarctica!) so that they go to sleep (just like bears hibernating in the winter). If need be I might take other bacteria out of the freezer and thaw them for use in other experiments.
As I work with how bacteria live on plants I sometimes have to try to see where the bacteria actually are so I often use microscope to look closely at plants leaves (look at the pictures below to see leaf stomata and the veins).
The first is the vein pattern or architecture after I have removed all the other things using various chemicals. Take a look at the veins in your wrist – looks similar doesn’t it?
This one is of the stomata or the small pores essentially for transpiration. Bacteria use these small holes to invade into the plant.
I often teach undergraduate students in classes; showing them how to use equipment or explaining the theory behind their work and that is very rewarding.
Much of science revolves around constantly learning new things and sharing that information with other people so I read a lot and discuss issues with my colleagues, getting help and in turn helping them with their experiments and attempting to solve any day to day problems.
What I'd do with the money
Fund an awareness project in the origins, processes and ethics behind the food production industry.
You may have heard in the news recently or from somebody you know about the horsemeat scandal. What you, your mum, your friends previously thought were beef-burgers should instead have been called horse-burgers!
While there are many reasons why this has happened; one of the most important reasons is because of the distance between us, as humans, shoppers and consumers and the processes which happen behind closed doors in getting food from where they are produced to your dinner plate. If you don’t know then it is easy to be deceived and other people have taken advantage of this and profited.
I would like to bridge this gap, by starting a program of awareness and education in the whole ‘farm to fork’ process which may involve activities like farm visits where people can perhaps milk a cow or two, feed some chickens and collect their eggs, learn how to make compost, grow some of your own potatoes, feed them, water them, take care of them and ultimately eat the tastiest chips you have ever had in your life!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Curious, friendly, annoying
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Working at the Cheltenham Science festival last year, talking to all kinds of people about the little things that live in soil. Funnily enough soil can be quite an interesting subject – ask me more!
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Yes! lots of times… ;-)
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Quite a toughie as I like loads of different genres and depends what mood I’m in. I really like live music at open air festivals though.. Richard Hawley is great
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Tracked leopards with the WWF in the Himalayas.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
I would wish (a) people could put aside their differences, work together and make the world a better place; (b) that I could find time to travel around the world with on my bicycle; (c) that I could talk to animals.
Tell us a joke.
What did the receiver say to the radio wave? Ouch! That megahertz.
My lab is sometimes (wish it was more often though) outside. Here I am standing in the middle of a field with some work mates. It was a great day out
This is me in the lab cutting DNA in a special light so that it glows.
In these tubes you can see little glowing blocks – this is DNA in a special gel.
You see the floating stuff in the tubes? Looking like a miniature sea serpent. Its actually DNA which I have extracted and work with on a daily basis. Amazingly these tangled floating threads carry all the information needed to create a bacterium. You yourself have got a similar substance in all your cells.
Here are some bacteria in a flask which can glow in UV light – AMAZING!!!
I’ve seen things so small that a million of them could fit across your fingernail if they were to hold hands (more accurately, flagella). Look at them holding on!
I sometimes get the chance to take students out on field trips to study bacteria in their natural environments. This is me next to a boiling hot, sulphurous geyser (smells like steamy rotten eggs!) in Iceland where we were sampling for extremophiles (bacteria which can live in extreme environments).