March 6, 2019, by Lexi Earl

Meet the Beacon: Dr Guillermina Mendiondo

Guillermina Mendiondo is a Nottingham Research Fellow in Crop Molecular Genetics, and a member of the Future Food Beacon of Excellence. Guillermina’s research focuses on the impact of environmental stress on plant development, and the role of the N-end rule pathway in targeted proteolysis as a central hub integrating plant responses to abiotic stresses. She is particularly focused on agriculturally important crops like barley, identifying how the plants sense environmental changes that affect yield and crop quality. Her research aims to provide plant breeders with plant genetic resources tolerant of environmental stresses. Dr Mendiondo is an applied plant biologist with a background in molecular and crop physiology.  Guillermina works in both the lab, and in the field, trialling plant lines she has developed in realistic scenarios.

In this interview, Guillermina talks to Lexi Earl about her research and plans while a member of the Future Food Beacon. 

Why Nottingham and why the Future Food Beacon?

I truly enjoy working in this multidisciplinary place where different subjects combine to produce high-quality research. For example, in my crop science studies, which are mostly based in molecular biology approaches, I have the opportunity to collaborate with plant physiologists, ecologists, soil scientists, and bioinformaticians. As a Nottingham Research Fellow I benefit from great facilities and really helpful technical support. As an early career researcher, I also benefit from the University’s mentoring system which truly supports my career development. The School of Biosciences is currently involved in several doctoral training partnerships and, for me, being a PhD supervisor is one of the most rewarding parts of being an academic.

The people that you work with make a huge difference to how you feel inside an institution. I am very grateful to the many colleagues who helped me start and develop my research career in Nottingham.

I am happy and proud to be part of one of the University of Nottingham’s Beacons of Excellence. Belonging to the Future Food Beacon community will bring me amazing opportunities, and gives me a sense of belonging. My project aligns very closely with the vision of Future Food. Given expected global population growth and the challenge of climate change, my aim is to understand the biological mechanisms that regulate crop response to environmental stresses and ultimately control yield stability and crop quality.

How would you explain your research?

I am interested in plant-environment interactions; how plants sense environmental change.  I am currently identifying promising proteins that affect yield and crop quality in agriculturally important crops, such as barley. Also, I am interested in the hormonal regulation of seed dormancy and germination.

My research has a direct impact in the plant-breeding industry. My work opens the way to the development of crops with increased stress resistance and yield stability in both marginal lands and areas greatly affected by climate change.

What inspired you to pursue this area?

I grew up in city surrounded by an active a rural area. My childhood memory of the smell of grain after harvest is still very present. I also remember how the mood of the city was affected by a bad or good year, as the economy of the city was very much linked to the productivity of the fields. I have a degree in Biology but then I moved to Agronomy for my PhD program. I like applied science and crop sciences offered me the best of both worlds. I was inspired by many great people including supervisors and mentors. I enjoy the daily life of plant science research, including the laboratory, the fields and even the relaxing moments!

How do you move between being in the lab and being in the field?

I find it completely natural. I really enjoy it. I don’t like routines so sometimes I am working in the lab, then in the afternoons I’ll be in the field. Then I might have to look at phenotyping aspects of the plant. The way the plant looks gives you a lot of information about what is going on. As scientists we often look at things quite narrowly, people are incredibly focused on one tiny aspect of the plant, but I really like jumping between the field and the lab. That has given me extra skills.

How will your research affect the average person?

I feel privileged to work towards food security within the realm of sustainable agricultural practices. My research may lead to the production of crops with increased drought tolerance and/or lower water demands during cultivation. This is a pioneer study in the field of crop science. The plant lines I am developing will be tested in the field, as opposed to laboratory conditions. These non-GMO [non genetically modified organism] mutant plants, hold altered components of N-end rule pathway. Changes to these cell proteins used by plants to sense and respond to their environment – such as water and oxygen levels – have already shown increased tolerance to abiotic stresses like waterlogging and drought.

What’s been the greatest moment of your career so far?

I had several exciting moments in my research career; some relate to research results and some to the interaction with the research community and students.

How will being based at UoN and joining the Future Food Beacon help you achieve your goals?

Joining the Future Food Beacon has been highly beneficial to my career. For example, I was allowed the opportunity to create my own research group where we conduct research at the highest level. It allows me to capitalise from my previous collaborations with the industry as well as with several international universities.

What aspects of your research and role are you looking forward to?

I aspire to establish my position as an international crop science researcher based at the University of Nottingham. As a crop science researcher I will direct my studies to the improvement of livelihoods and increased food security. This way I will be giving the community something back for the many opportunities I have benefited from so far.

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