“There are more things in heaven and earth, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
– William Shakespeare, Hamlet
The words of the great playwright have been in my mind all week, not only because of my trip to the place where he was born and is buried, but also because, to me, these lines from Hamlet have always seemed to describe science particularly well. The past couple of weeks have been busy with so many experiments going on! While I was busy, spring arrived at Harper Adams University, which means sunshine, wildflowers, and lambs have appeared on campus, bringing new life and that feeling of excitement that comes with the beginning of a new field season.
This week we took measurements of plant water status during drought after the plants had been treated with film antitranspirants. The antitranspirants used in this study are the same ones that were used in the wheat experiment that we participated in at the National Plant Phenomics Centre a few weeks back, but this time they were applied to oilseed rape (Brassica napus). As I mentioned in my last post, these experiments are evaluating the application of antitranspirants as a management strategy to improve plant water use under drought conditions. To determine if the antitranspirants are working as they should in the various crops we are studying, we must figure out how much water the plants are using, losing, and retaining during a drought period. There are many ways to quantify these water-use characteristics, including measuring soil moisture or transpiration.
In the experiment this week, we were measuring the water content of the leaves, also known as leaf relative water content (RWC). In the photo above you can see one of the researchers at HAU taking a sample of a leaf for this measurement. In this protocol, the leaf sample is weighed before and after soaking it in distilled water, and then again after being dried in an oven. RWC can then be calculated to give researchers an idea of how much water the leaf contains compared to the maximum amount of water it could contain. These measurements will tell us if film antitranspirants can benefit plants by helping them retain more water in their leaves during a drought.
After so much activity in the greenhouse and lab, I took a break with some of the other international students at HAU to visit Stratford-upon-Avon, which is the town where William Shakespeare was born and is buried. Of course, traveling with students in agriculture meant we also couldn’t miss the Stratford-upon-Avon Butterfly Farm. We managed to spend a couple hours brushing up on our entomology and taking about a million pictures of all the beautiful and fascinating species that the farm hosts. The town is charming and a must-see whether you loved or hated the days spent in high school reading Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, or Julius Caesar. Now that I’m back at HAU and working on my dissertation again, I can only hope that by visiting his house and grave, some of Shakespeare’s writing talent rubbed off on me!