The Taproot
The Taproot
Plantae / American Society of Plant Biologists
The Taproot is the podcast that digs beneath the surface to understand how scientific publications are created. In each episode, we take a paper from the plant biology literature and talk about the story behind the science with one of the authors.
S5E5: STARTing Out as a PI, Pivoting During COVID, and Advocating for Change
In this episode, our guest is Aman Husbands. Aman is originally from Canada and got his undergraduate degree from the University of Toronto. After completing his PhD at the University of California Riverside, he moved to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories. In 2018, he moved to The Department of Molecular Genetics at the Ohio State University where he is an Assistant Professor. Aman’s research group focuses on uncovering the properties that allow complex biological processes, like development, to occur reproducibly. Aman shares the story behind a recent publication from his lab entitled “Identifying Cancer-Relevant Mutations in the DLC START Domain Using Evolutionary and Structure-Function Analyses” by Holub et al. 2020 in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences. He describes how his lab was able to identify new funding opportunities outside of plant sciences--and the different cultures of cancer research. We talk about why it is important to tune in to the projects you enjoy doing and discuss the responsibilities PI’s have to their labs and the people that come next. Aman says that it is important to deliberately create an atmosphere within the lab, clearly communicate priorities, and foster collaboration and communication with the group. We also talk about the value of connecting with and getting feedback from those outside your immediate research area. Aman also shares some of the ways he is working to address racism and equality, both on individual and systemic levels. A transcript of this episode was generously provided by Jo Stormer Holub AS, Bouley RA, Petreaca RC, Husbands AY. Identifying Cancer-Relevant Mutations in the DLC START Domain Using Evolutionary and Structure-Function Analyses. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2020; 21(21):8175. Community TV show pizza fire GIF Aman's Email: Twitter Handles @AmanHusbands @ehaswell @baxtertwi @taprootpodcast
Feb 23, 2021
40 min
S5E4: Interacting with Plants, Pathogens, and the Public
This week’s podcast is a conversation with Dr. Kevin Cox. Kevin earned his PhD at Texas A&M University before returning to his hometown of St Louis, Missouri to do a postdoc with Blake Meyers at The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. Kevin has won numerous awards and grants and was recently awarded an HHMI Hanna H. Gray fellowship. We talk about Kevin’s work “TAL effector driven induction of a SWEET gene confers susceptibility to bacterial blight of cotton” by Cox et al. 2017 in Nature Communications. He tells us about the molecular mechanisms of bacterial blight on cotton as well as the technologies and collaborations that made this work possible. Kevin shares his path to plant science and how his exposure to new courses and research experiences led him to a career studying plant pathology. We talk about how he now uses multiple online and in-person platforms to share his passion and bridge communication gaps between the science community and the public. We also talk about how the pandemic has affected Kevin’s work as a postdoc and how he was able to balance work responsibilities while supporting his young daughter’s sudden online schooling during the early stages of the pandemic. A transcript for this episode was generously provided by Jo Stormer Cox, K., Meng, F., Wilkins, K. et al. TAL effector driven induction of a SWEET gene confers susceptibility to bacterial blight of cotton. Nat Commun 8, 15588 (2017). Kevin's YouTube Channel @Bioguy Kevin's Twitch Account @Bioguy Twitter Handles @K_Bioguy_Cox @ehaswell @baxtertwi @taprootpodcast
Feb 16, 2021
32 min
S5E3: Pre-stressed Conditions: Epigenetics and Life as a Black Academic
In this episode, we talk with Dr. Thelma Madzima, Assistant Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Washington, Bothell. A native of Zimbabwe, she received her Ph.D. in Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Florida and went on to complete a postdoc with Karen McGinnis in the Department of Biological Science at Florida State University. Her research currently focuses on epigenetic regulation of gene expression in plants using maize (Zea mays) as a model organism. We talk with Thelma about her recent publication in G3 “Epigenetic Regulation of ABA-Induced Transcriptional Responses in Maize”, complete citation. She tells us about characterising a specific epigenetic pathway in maize and how this work identified transposons that induce specific DNA methylations. Perhaps not unexpectedly, she and her authors found that plants that were “pre-stressed” by the loss of epigenetic silencing were also more likely to. Thelma talks about living in the US epicentre of the pandemic and how she is coping with the new “normal” as a Professor at a primarily undergraduate institute. She discusses the setbacks that the pandemic have created for tenure track professors, including those that are specific to PUIs. Additionally, as an immigrant from Zimbabwe, she knows firsthand the hardships an immigrant student faces and what recentchanges have meant to international students. As one of the few Black professors working in academic plant molecular biology in the US, she discusses the changes that need to come about in order to encourage the inclusion of black scientists in the scientific community. A transcript for this episode was generously provided by Jo Stormer Vendramin S, Huang J, Crisp PA, Madzima TF, McGinnis KM (2020) Epigenetic Regulation of ABA-Induced Transcriptional Responses in Maize. G3: Genes|Genomes|Genetics 10: 1727-1743 Twitter Handles @thelma_madzima @ehaswell @baxtertwi @taprootpodcast
Feb 9, 2021
44 min
S5E2: Multiculturalism Matters in the Rhizosphere - and in Academia
This week’s podcast is a conversation with Dr. Adán Colón-Carmona, Professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Adán received his PhD from the University of California, Irvine and he did postdoctoral research at the Salk Institute and at the University of California, Davis. His research currently focuses on plant rhizosphere interactions, abiotic stress response, and cell cycle. We talk with Adán about a recent publication in the Journal of Experimental Botany - “Influence of Arabidopsis thaliana accessions on rhizobacterial communities and natural variation in root exudates” (Micallef et al., 2009). He explains that different accessions of Arabidopsis, even when grown in the same starting soil, eventually have unique bacterial communities, and discusses why he thinks their exudates may be the reason. As a Mexican-born immigrant to the USA, Adán describes how the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) has positively impacted his life. Additionally, he points out the value of multiculturalism. He explains how he has relied on his own multiple identities to empathize with, teach, and mentor students whose lives have become increasingly challenging during the COVID lockdowns. A transcript for this episode was generously provided by Jo Stormer Adán's email: @AColonCarmona Adán's Twitter @ehaswell Elizabeth’s Twitter @baxtertwi Ivan’s Twitter @taprootpodcast Taproot Twitter Micallef SA, Shiaris MP, Colón-Carmona A (2009) Influence of Arabidopsis thaliana accessions on rhizobacterial communities and natural variation in root exudates. Journal of Experimental Botany 60: 1729-1742
Feb 2, 2021
40 min
S5E1: Finding Strength in Diverse Scientific Communities
This week’s Taproot podcast episode is a conversation with Dr. Tanisha Williams A plant researcher, she was inspired this summer by the simultaneous rise of the pandemic and the civil uprising against police brutality to draw Black botanists together for a social media event called #BlackBotanistsWeek. Tanisha is an impressively accomplished early career researcher whose work has ranged from population genomics to the use of herbarium specimens to track climate induced changes in flowering phenology, all with a central thread of preserving plant diversity. She received her PhD from the University of Connecticut Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and now she is the David Burpee Postdoctoral Fellow in the Conservation, Genetics, and Ecology & Evolution of Plant Reproduction Group at Bucknell University. Currently, Tanisha works with Dr. Chris Martine on rare Pennsylvanian plant conservation, Australian Solanum taxonomy, and the way the Martu people of Australia interact with plants. Tanisha takes us on an inspiring journey through her research projects. She has persevered despite numerous setbacks, including those we are all familiar with like the pandemic, and those that are more specific to her experience, such as the dangers of spending time in nature while black and the lack of BIPOC representation in academia. Her social media campaign to provide black plant-lovers with a space to connect and share experiences quickly went viral when it first launched in July and has since expanded into a free virtual lecture series to highlight the work of black botanists. The series is called “Growing Black Roots: The Black Botanical Legacy,” and is hosted virtually by the Holden Arboretum every second Wednesday until September 2021. A transcript for this episode was generously provided by Jo Stormer Tanisha’s website: @t_marie_wms Tanisha’s Instagram and Twitter Beronda’s website and blog: @BerondaM Beronda’s Twitter @ehaswell Elizabeth’s Twitter @baxtertwi Ivan’s Twitter @taprootpodcast Taproot Twitter Link to Holden Arboretum Black Botanists Lecture Series Join the Black Botanist’s Week community: #BlackBotanistsWeek A story on Dr. Tiffany Knight’s work: Burkle, L.A., Marlin, J.C. and T.M. Knight. 2013. Plant-Pollinator Interactions over 120 Years: Loss of Species, Co-Occurrence and Function. Science 339: 1611-1615.
Jan 26, 2021
38 min
S5E0: Season 5 Teaser
It has been quite a few months since our last episode! We intended to have a new season out by now, but as you might imagine, a few things got in the way. We are, however, back to working on topics and guests for Season 5 so stay tuned for new episodes this Fall! In the meantime, we want to hear from you! Tell us how you're navigating these chaotic and unusual times. Or... if what you're doing can't really be characterized as navigating, tell us about that instead! Let us know how you're trying to work right now, how you're navigating the next step in your career, or how the renewed attention on systemic racism in science and the world around us has affected you. We're planning on playing a few of these in every episode. So tell us a little bit about yourself by recording a short voicemail on your phone and email it to us at We look forward to hearing from you! Be sure to listen to our previous seasons while you wait and stay tuned How to listen, download and subscribe to The Taproot podcast. Questions, feedback, suggestions? Contact us at Follow us on Twitter @TaprootPodcast @ehaswell @baxtertwi
Sep 15, 2020
2 min
S4E8: Convergent Evolution of Caffeine and Divergent Careers
In the final episode of Season 4, we talk with Todd Barkman, Professor of Biology at Western Michigan University. Todd earned his PhD in Botany at the University of Texas at Austin with Beryl Simpson, and went on to a postdoc position at Penn State with Claude dePamphilis. He started his lab at Western Michigan in 2000, where his group studies the systematics and evolution of plants, as well as the molecular evolution of biosynthetic pathways. We talk with Todd about his lab’s publication, “Convergent evolution of caffeine in plants by co-option of exapted ancestral enzymes” which was published in PNAS in 2016. Todd tells us the story behind the paper, how flowering plants evolved to make caffeine, and how he became interested in this topic. Todd describes what it is like to work at an “R2, or Research 2” institution such as Western Michigan, where it is important to succeed as both an instructor and as a researcher, and where resources for the latter are modest compared to “R1” institutions. We talk about the pros and cons of this environment, and how to accomplish research goals with limited funds and time. Todd talks about the importance and limitations of collaborations and closes with advice and encouragement for early career scientists considering a career at an R2 or R3 institution. He also advocates for a less deliberate and more open-ended style of experimental planning, and acknowledges the power of serendipity in his work. Huang, R., O’Donnell, A. J., Barboline, J. J., & Barkman, T. J. (2016). Convergent evolution of caffeine in plants by co-option of exapted ancestral enzymes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(38), 10613-10618. Taproot S4E1: Identifying the Principle Components: Gender Dimorphism in Flowers and Consciously Building a Happy and Rewarding Career in Science Todd's email: Twitter Handles @ehaswell @baxtertwi @taprootpodcast
Feb 18, 2020
32 min
S4E7: Milestone-Based Decision-Making In and Out of the Lab
This episode, we continue our discussions about cultivating a career with guest Kelly Gillespie, Nursery Solutions Lead at Bayer Crop Science. Kelly got her bachelor's degree at Knox College, a small liberal arts college in Illinois. She then moved on to do a PhD with Lisa Ainsworth at the University of Illinois. She did a short postdoc with Dick Sayre at the Danforth Center before moving to Monsanto, where she has worked for 9 years, staying with the company through the merger with Bayer. We talk with Kelly about her publication, “Greater antioxidant and respiratory metabolism in field‐grown soybean exposed to elevated ozone under both ambient and elevated CO2”, which was published in 2011 in Plant Cell & Environment. She talks about what it was like to work at the USDA Free Air Concentration Enrichment (FACE) site, the teamwork that was needed to collect her data, and how this experience taught her to work in highly collaborative environments. Kelly also shares her career journey and the factors she considered when choosing to make the transition from academia to industry. Kelly emphasizes a “milestone-based” approach, where each decision is broken into small steps and evaluated at checkpoints along the way. She talks about what it takes to succeed in a science career in industry, what might be familiar and what might be surprising to someone with an academic background, and emphasizes the value of making connections with other professionals. SHOW NOTES: Gillespie, K. M., Xu, F., Richter, K. T., Mcgrath, J. M., Markelz, R. C., Ort, D. R., ... & Ainsworth, E. A. (2012). Greater antioxidant and respiratory metabolism in field‐grown soybean exposed to elevated O3 under both ambient and elevated CO2. Plant, Cell & Environment, 35(1), 169-184. Join ASPB Plantae Webinar: Ask Me Anything: Plant Science Careers in Industry The Awesomest Seven Year Postdoc Plantae Webinar: Prioritization and Work / Life Balance: Do Less, Work Better Plantae Mentoring Center - Sign up to be a mentor or mentee Kelly’s LinkedIn Profile Twitter Handles @kmgillespie @ehaswell @baxtertwi @taprootpodcast
Feb 4, 2020
39 min
S4E6: Staying Afloat - Time Management in a Sea of Obligations
Our guest for this episode is Dr. Holly Bik. Holly obtained her PhD in Molecular Phylogenetics at the University of Southampton, working with John Lambshead at the Natural History Museum of London in conjunction with the UK National Oceanography Center. She completed postdoctoral appointments with Dr. Kelley Thomas at the University of New Hampshire and Dr. Jonathan Eisen at UC Davis before starting her faculty position. In addition to her research, Holly is invested in science communication. She serves as an associate editor for the popular marine blog Deep-Sea News and maintains an active presence on Twitter (@hollybik). Holly has co-authored a number of peer-reviewed articles on the use of social media and online tools in academia, including “An Introduction to Social Media for Scientists” in PLoS Biology and “Ten Simple Rules for Effective Online Outreach” in PLoS Computational Biology. In this episode, we discuss the first paper to come out of Holly’s lab at UC Riverside , entitled “Nematode-associated microbial taxa do not correlate with host phylogeny, geographic region or feeding morphology in marine sediment habitats” (Schuelke et al., 2018). Holly elaborates on the unexpected results from this paper and talks about the many challenges associated with collecting and analyzing marine sediments. In addition to the technical aspects of this paper, we also talk about time management and how Holly set aside time to write a draft in one week. She tells us about her 6-month-long personal work/life balance experiment in time-tracking and shares what she learned from this experience. We discuss the concept of Deep Work and why she continues to fill out weekly review worksheets to help manage stress and productivity. At the time of this recording, Holly was in the process of moving her lab from UC Riverside to The University of Georgia where she is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Marine Sciences. We talk about the process of moving and the factors Holly considered when making this important career decision. Holly explains that it's important for early career researchers to understand how long things take, and also be okay with the fact that some things are just going to take way longer than you expect. SHOW NOTES: Paper: Schuelke, T., Pereira, T. J., Hardy, S. M., & Bik, H. M. (2018). Nematode‐associated microbial taxa do not correlate with host phylogeny, geographic region or feeding morphology in marine sediment habitats. Molecular Ecology, 27(8), 1930-1951. A few of Holly’s Twitter threads: Data-driven time management Concept of ‘deep work’ Work life balance: The Monday Motivator - weekly emails that provides positive energy, good vibes, and a productivity tip from the National Center of Faculty Development and Diversity Cal Newport (author of Deep Work) @hollybik @ehaswell @baxtertwi @taprootpodcast
Jan 21, 2020
44 min
S4E5: Navigating Experimental and Situational Panic
In this episode, we talk with Laura Klasek who is a Plant Biology Ph.D. Candidate at the University of California, Davis about her research and experiences as a graduate student. Laura received her undergraduate degree from Hendrix College, where she double-majored in Biology and English with a creative writing focus. She was a 2018-2019 ASPB Conviron Scholar, is currently serving as a Plantae Community Network Leader for the Student Space Network, and is an Early Career Representative for the ASPB Plant Biology Program committee. For her dissertation, Laura is examining how the photosynthetic apparatus of the chloroplast develops. She is specifically interested in how proteins are targeted and folded within the chloroplast to facilitate improvements in how efficiently plants use light, water, and nutrients. Laura began her graduate studies in 2014 with Dr. Kentaro Inoue. In August 2016 - two weeks before Laura’s qualifying exams - Dr. Inoue tragically died in a traffic accident. The sudden loss of her advisor at a time when many graduate students already question whether to continue forced Laura to actively make difficult decisions about her career in a stressful and unexpected environment. In this episode, Laura shares how she navigated her situation with honesty. We discuss graduate student agency and how options are not unlimited. We talk about how it is important to work through the panic when our experiments and careers do not go as planned and how to decide if something is salvageable or if it is time to walk away. Finally, Laura suggests ways in which graduate programs and universities might help students by having systems already in place that provide support when faculty are sick, moving, or otherwise suddenly unavailable to mentor and to provide financial stability. SHOW NOTES: View From the Trenches - Advice if your PhD Advisor Unexpectedly Dies by Laura Klasek Hope is not a Strategy - Designing an IDP for a graduate program by Laura Klasek Plantae Webinar with Katie Murphy and Laura Klasek All aboard the mentor-ship: making and using an Individual Development Plan Follow on Twitter @EBibliophile @ehaswell @baxtertwi @taprootpodcast
Jan 7, 2020
37 min
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