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Research & career focus: Dr Janneke Balk – Bioenergetics and biochemistry studies in plants

Janneke Balke - Plant Gene Editing
I’m Janneke Balk. I’m a researcher in biochemistry at the John Innes Centre. I’m very interested in iron in plants; how plants take it up and then how they move it into certain parts of the plants, like seeds and, as you know for example, seeds but also just vegetables are very important for food for us and there needs to be enough iron in it. So I actually did my first degree in the Netherlands, which was a four-year degree I started with biology in the first year but then quickly specialised towards the more molecular side of biology. And then, after that, I did - I came to England.
I did a PhD in Oxford that was on mitochondria and on respiration, and the protein complexes that do the respiration. So yes, so I think the last 10 years biochemistry has been pushed a bit to the background because of all the genome sequencing. On the other hand, that has been, in a sense - is very good for biochemistry as well. So we now have all these sequences - so sequences of proteins encoded by those genes, and so I think biochemistry can come back in the next ten years, where we can actually investigate all these sequences and try and find out what they do.
And that includes, in my case, for example, now the wheat genome is out and we see, for example, lots of iron transporters in there; these transporters are actually first characterised in yeast, or in the model plant species Arabidopsis and then we can you know, first study them and then hopefully, manipulate them to make high iron wheat. So that’s called biofortification of plants.

In the next of our career-focused films we meet Dr Janneke Balk, a Reader in the School of Biological Sciences at UEA. Her research group is based at the John Innes Centre at the Norwich Research Park.

Janneke describes her career and research background in bioenergetics studies in plants, with a particular interest in the role of metals in these reactions. Her current research focuses on Arabidopsis thaliana, the first plant to have its genome sequenced. Further details about her current research studies can be found on her web site.

One focus of Janneke’s research is the enzyme Hydrogenase, which allows some biological cells to generate (or use up) hydrogen. A detailed understanding of the structure of this protein and an example of this can be viewed in our Gallery of Molecules.

Janneke’s research highlights how bioenergetics principles are relevant to studies in plants, which we will look at in more detail in some of the next steps in this course. The advanced gene editing methods that she refers to will also be discussed in more detail during the final week of this course.

Technical terms in simplified form

Arabidopsis thaliana

Arabidopsis thaliana is a small flowering plant that grows widely in Europe and Asia. It is often found by roadsides and in disturbed lands so is usually considered to be a weed. Due to its relatively short life cycle, Arabidopsis has become a popular model organism in plant biology and genetics. For a complex multicellular eukaryote, A. thaliana has a relatively small genome of approximately 135 megabase pairs (Mbp) and it was the first plant to have its genome sequenced.

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Biochemistry: the Molecules of Life

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