Sian Foch-Gatrell

having lunch :-)

Favourite Thing: Science allows you to see things, and find out things that usually you would never get to know about. I especially love working with DNA, and it is really cool when you actually get to see it!



Springwood High School 1988-1993


University of Dundee, 2005-2009 BSc Hons Zoology

Work History:

University of Dundee, Scotland. Oceans Research, South Africa. Hunstanton Sealife Centre, UK.


Scottish Crop Research Institute, University of Dundee

Current Job:

Research into biofuels using barley plants

Me and my work

Currently I am working on a large project which looks at how lignin is made in barley. We want to find a mutated plant with a reduced ability to make this tough compound called lignin. This would allow us to more easily access the energy stored inside the plant in the form of sugars. Then we want to use these sugars to make ethanol which can be used as a biofuel.

Lignin is a tough compound. By reducing the amount of lignin, but without reducing the plant’s ability to do other things (like produce seed or defend against disease), we will be able to break through the material of the plant (using enzymes). This will allow us to access the energy stored inside, but without using the part of the plant that is used to produce food. Once we have accessed this energy  we can use it to produce ethanol which is a biofuel used for many processes including powering cars.


I am working on a TILLING project (Targeted Induced Local Lesions in Genomes). This basically means that we introduce a mutatagen into a large batch of plants, harvest the material at specific points and superpool the DNA so we can look for point mutations (a chromosomal change at some single nucleotide of a gene). We want to look for mutations in our genes of interest (those in the lignin pathway)  and then use next generation sequencing to see what effect it has had on the lignin biosynthesis pathway. myimage6

My Typical Day

The best thing about working as a scientist is that everyday is different, but it can include experiments with DNA.

Right now I am trying out different DNA extraction protocols to find which method will give me the most and the best quality DNA before we use this protocol for our main superpool. I have also had to plant my seeds in a logical order which are fully labelled so when I harvest material from the plants and store them on ice I will know exactly which sample comes from where. This is also important for when I come to analyse the DNA that has been extracted so we can looks back and see exactly which plant from which superpool may carry the information we need. Once this has happened we can collect the seed from this plant and grow more of the same (because they will carry the same genetic information). myimage1

Since we are growing plants that have been subjected to a mutagen we want to look for a useful mutation in the lignin biosynthesis pathway that will make it easier for us to extract the sugars, but this can be very hard to do so we will use a new technology called Next Generation Sequencing to see exactly what the mutation does to the plant. Because we don’t want to use a mutated plant that has negative effects in important areas such as seed production or disease resistance. 

What I'd do with the money

Most people think that mutated plants and animals are dangerous to the environment, we would like to spend the money on teach people the reality of using transgenics and why they are so important to our work.

Biofuels are one part of many types of renewable energies that can ultimately replace oil. But some people think that if scientists are trying to use crops to make fuel then there won’t be enough land for crops that are used to produce food, as well as crops that are used to produce fuel, which is why we intend to use the part of the plant that doesn’t compete with the agricultural industry. We would very much like to get this across to the general public as well and hopefully free up more money to fund research into this area. 

Of course… if that fails, we could always spend the money on a lab outing! Haha just kidding! myimage7 myimage8

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Dedicated, fun, passionate

Who is your favourite singer or band?

I love so many!

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Swam with sharks, world’s highest bungee jump

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

Complete my PhD, swim with bull sharks and travel more

What did you want to be after you left school?

A forensic anthropologist or a zoologist

Were you ever in trouble at school?

No, too devious to get caught! Haha

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

I am currently working towards a potential biofuel which gives me a lot of pride and satisfaction

Tell us a joke.

Q: What is the fastest way to determine the sex of a chromosome? A: Pull down its genes.