Name: Dr Jason Rudd
Research institution: Rothamsted Research UK Plant Pathology and Microbiology, Harpenden
Research career length: 15 years
Research Council: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
Location: Harpenden, England
Brief summary of research: Investigating how to protect wheat crops against a disease causing fungus. We are trying to identify weaknesses in this fungus, which is responsible for causing disease and the resultant large economic costs.
A-levels: Biology, Chemistry and Geography
BSc in Biochemistry at University College of Wales Swansea
PhD in plant reproduction at University of Birmingham
Continuation for three years of PhD research as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Birmingham
Further postdoctorate at the Institute for Plant Biochemistry Halle (Saale) in Germany, funded by the European Union
Project leader at Rothamsted on wheat pathology
One of the greatest challenges facing humanity is how to provide food for the planet’s growing population. With 7 billion hungry mouths to feed, and numbers growing daily, researchers like Jason Rudd are seeking to improve efficiency in the production of crops that feed the world.
Wheat is a staple part of our diet and is the third most produced cereal in the world, after maize and rice. My research looks at a particular fungal disease that affects wheat; stunting its growth and reducing the amount of food it produces. So, finding out about this fungus is potentially of huge economic importance to farmers and to the rest of us; once we know more about the biology of the fungus, we can try to prevent it from attacking crops.
I lead a team who study how the genes in the fungus behave during an infection. By seeing what happens when we turn off certain genes at different stages of the fungal infection, we are increasingly able to understand the infection process and hope to use our knowledge to develop more effective and more environmentally friendly methods of protecting these valuable crops.
During a typical working week, I might spend some of my time designing and carrying out experiments, writing research papers and applying for funding to take the team’s work forward. The rest of my time is taken up supervising PhD students, managing technical support staff and attending meetings, either at my research institute or elsewhere. I give frequent internal seminars, where new ideas and research findings are shared and discussed, as well as more formal presentations at scientific conferences, both in the UK and overseas.
I particularly enjoy working in a lab because it’s a very social environment, with each of us performing a smaller part of one larger team-based project. We also collaborate with teams in other institutions, and in other countries, which is why I end up travelling quite extensively - including to sunny and exotic places like California and the Canary Islands.
I was always interested in how living things worked, but didn’t have any expectation that I would become a researcher. I’m the first person in my family to have pursued an academic career, and was encouraged to study for A-levels and to apply for university, by a chemistry and physics teacher, at my comprehensive school in Morecambe, Lancashire. I studied for a BSc in Biochemistry at University College of Wales Swansea, followed by a PhD in plant reproduction at the University of Birmingham. BBSRC funding allowed me to continue my career as a postdoctoral researcher for a further three years, after which I moved to the Institute of Plant Biochemistry Halle in Germany, before returning to the UK in 2004, in my current post.
After 15 years, I’m still enthusiastic for my research, and derive great satisfaction from seeing new experimental results, having articles and papers published in scientific journals and seeing my PhD students succeed in their projects. In the future I’d like to build my team further, possibly work in another country again or maybe work for a commercial company - though I’m very happy to stay in academia too.