Professor Christine Raines has been appointed as our Pro Vice-Chancellor, Research. Here she tells us more about her work, her role as PVCR and her priorities for the year ahead.
Her work on increasing plant proteins was recently published in the Plant Biotechnology Journal. Read more about it on our news page.
You’ve been with us at Essex since 1988. Has your field of research changed in that time?
In the area of plant biology, the major differences I would note are the scale and speed with which data can be generated. For example when I started analysing plant DNA sequences to obtain a single gene sequence could take a period of months and this was a respectable achievement. Now entire genomes with ~ 30,000 genes can be sequenced in days. The challenge now is managing and analysing the volume of data created.
We used to hear a lot about genetically modified crops, but that field seems to have gone quiet. What’s happening in the field right now?
Genetically modified crops is very much a live area of research. In many countries across the world, including the US, transgenic crops are grown widely including staples such as Maize and Soy Bean. Although in Europe there is a reluctance to endorse GM crops, for now there appears to be less open public resistance, but it is still not possible to grow transgenic crops in Europe for commercial purposes. The group from Essex has grown transgenic wheat in the UK for experimental purposes and although we encountered little or no resistance the entire process was highly regulated.
Who are your research or biology heroes? And why?
Not sure I have a single research hero – but people that spring to mind are Marie Curie – discoverer of radium. Her sheer determination and hard work were impressive and she was awarded the Nobel Prize on two occasions, once for physics and the other chemistry. Rosalind Franklin because she was instrumental in the discovery of DNA but only more recently has her significant input been recognised. But I think as a plant biologist I would have to have Gregor Mendel at the top of my list as his work on pea plants founded the study of genetics.
You’ve been holding the role of PVCR for some months, what does it involve?
The PVCR role is about enabling, encouraging and supporting our staff to do the most exciting, world leading research possible which can have benefits for society. I work very closely with colleagues on the University Steering Group as a member of the senior leadership team and also with the Research and Enterprise Office. My day to day job sees me working with academics and professional services staff across the University developing ways to facilitate our research.
What role will you play in the formulation of our next University Strategy 2019 -2015?
Our DVC designate Professor Lorna Fox O’Mahony is leading on the development of the new strategic plan and my role is to work with her to develop the aspects of the plan relating to research.
What do you think the University of Essex does best – and what needs work?
I believe the University is very good at making staff and students feel as though they are part of a community. As PVC research I would like to look to ways that would enable staff to have more time and space for research and also to work with the Students’ Union to provide more opportunities to engage our students, both UG and PG, with our research.
Tell us something about yourself that we can’t learn from your staff profile.
I left School at 16 and worked as a technician in a school for seven years before going on to University to study for a degree in Agricultural Botany at Glasgow.