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Johanna and Hechizo: a successful barley science placement

Images of Johanna's placement (credit: Johanna Wurtz)
“It was great to have Johanna in Dundee. She managed to a large glasshouse experiment over the winter and had time to develop genetic marker assays as well as analyse the results"

Undergraduate student Johanna Maria Würtz, who undertook a 1,150-mile hike alongside her Shetland pony Hechizo to take on a barley science placement at the James Hutton Institute in Dundee, has completed her work in Scotland and plans to continue researching sustainable solutions for future agriculture and plant breeding.

Last year, Johanna and Hechizo started their adventure from Segovia, then went across northern Spain to France's Atlantic coast. After a ride through France, they crossed the channel and started hiking again in East Sussex. Making their way up to Scotland before the second lockdown, Johanna observed agricultural practices changing with the climate and soil conditions, and met farmers, countless supporters and friends for life along the way, in a journey that was followed keenly on social media and in the mainstream press.

About her journey, Johanna says: "I raised some money for the international peasant movement 'La Via Campesina' and feel honoured having restored a little hope and faith in humanity for some people. Connecting to nature, my horse and myself and drawing attention to the importance of agriculture for a much-needed increase of appreciation for our life essentials was the deeper reason for this very personal pilgrimage."

Once here, Johanna focussed her research on the genetic control of flowering time in barley in a project that aims to help barley breeders develop new varieties for sustainable agriculture under likely climate change scenarios.

She explains: "After assessing barley flowering time and looking at related data from another studies, I decided on interesting candidate genetic regions and started analysing them with specialist genotyping methods. Some not yet studied lines were included in my experimental design.

"Due to the circumstances, I was lucky to get my scholarship extended for two extra months, finished harvesting and sent off some extra samples for further genotyping and analysis. I got to know and enjoy the Scottish spring until I found the first winter barley field starting to flower and will now finish my writing at home in Germany."

She says she has enjoyed her stay in Scotland and is already eyeing up further studies: "I'd love to come back for my PhD after two years of master's studies and further training in biological vegetable breeding, as I really embraced this beautiful piece of the world and its people, and there is so much still to do and get to know that wasn't possible because of COVID. We're going home with a heart full of amazing memories of incredible people and unique experiences!"

Dr Luke Ramsay, Johanna's supervisor, commented: "It was great to have Johanna in Dundee. She managed to a large glasshouse experiment over the winter and had time to develop genetic marker assays as well as analyse the results. It is a real shame most of the time she was here was during lockdown and I hope if she comes back in the future she gets to see more of Scotland as well as possibly building on the work she did during her Erasmus training at the James Hutton Institute."

After returning to Germany, Johanna has set her sights on joining the research team of Professor Klaus Pillen, leader of the BARISTA (Advanced tools for breeding BARley for Intensive and SusTainable Agriculture under climate change scenarios) project, to which the director of the International Barley Hub, Prof Robbie Waugh, also contributes. View Johanna's scientific poster to find out more about her work.

The International Barley Hub is an initiative seeking to create a platform for the translation of barley research into economic, social, environmental and commercial impacts for the breeding, farming, malting, brewing, feed, food, health and related industries. The project is supported by the UK and Scottish governments through the Tay Cities Deal.    

Press and media enquiries: 

Bernardo Rodriguez-Salcedo, Media Manager, James Hutton Institute, Tel: +44 (0)1224 395089 (direct line), +44 (0)344 928 5428 (switchboard) or +44 (0)7791 193918 (mobile).

Printed from /news/johanna-and-hechizo-successful-barley-science-placement on 22/02/24 09:30:10 PM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.