Meet new members of the ELSA team

21 October 2015

The Earth and Life Systems Alliance (ELSA) is a strategic cornerstone of the Norwich Research Park. With its interdisciplinary approach to addressing the challenges of a changing climate, the Alliance not only carries out fundamental research but also applies the findings to real world scenarios

They have recently added two new members to the team, namely Levi Yant and Jennifer Pratscher.

Emily Kench, ELSA intern student 2015, interviewed them to find out more about their work with ELSA and what make them tick.

Some excerpts from their interviews:

Levi Rant

What first sparked your interest in science?

I knew that I wanted to do something for the world. Something in science. I enjoyed biology so I followed my interests in an open way. I felt no pressure to have a noble profession.

What enticed you across the pond to the fine city of Norwich?

Aside from being in the gorgeous UK, working at JIC has great long term prospects. I like to be in the company of Birkenstock-wearing, laid-back scientists with less pretence than at Harvard. The atmosphere here is great.

How would you convince a non-scientist that your work is important?

I’m writing a paper on cancer at the moment. I find it horrifying that we still don’t understand how and why it develops at a basic level - it blows my mind! Although I don’t study cancers in humans, the principles I study are the same. We can use plants to understand principles operating over evolutionary timescales. There are basic principles of evolution across all kingdoms and we need examples from every kingdom.

What does ELSA mean to you?

John Innes Centre (JIC) on the Norwich Research Park is arguably the best place in the world for plant biology and other areas of NRP are great for evolutionary research, which we are trying to integrate with population genomics. ELSA allows me to do this with others. For example, Martin Taylor (UEA) carries out related work to mine but on polyploid fish. It’s similar to my research but working in separate kingdoms.

Jenni Pratscher

What first sparked your interest in science?

My biology teacher was a great influence in my decision to pursue a career in science. Her lessons were always engaging. I was inspired by the fact that she had been to university, achieved her degree, gone on to study science in greater depth and then taken a leap of faith into teaching.

How do you convince a non-scientist that your work is important?

People are so aware of the threats of global warming that I don’t think it would be hard to convince the public that my work is important. Methane is a greenhouse gas, emissions are rising, and it goes without saying that we need to know more about the way in which it is cycled. There are a lot of unanswered questions surrounding methane sinks. If we can answer these we will be one step closer in successfully mitigating the effects of methane on global warming.

What is the one big achievement you would like to accomplish?

I really hope to characterise key methane oxidising bacteria in soils. They’re the only atmospheric sink for methane in the terrestrial environment and we don’t know enough about them. We’re yet to find out their significance. No one knows what these bacteria do, or even what they are. What we do know is that they are the only organisms that can use methane at the low concentrations found in the atmosphere, but this isn’t enough, I want to know more.

For the full interviews and for more information about ELSA click here