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Jun 28
InterConnections: Get to Know Stefan Sanow

Molecular Mechanisms of Pseudomonas Assisted Plant Nitrogen Uptake—Opportunities for Modern Agriculture

Name: Stefan Sanow

Current Position: JUMPA Ph.D. student, Root Dynamics Group, IBG-2, Forschungszentrum Jülich, Germany (Jülich–University of Melbourne Postgraduate Academy)

Education: M.S. degree in biotechnology at the University of Applied Sciences–FH Aachen (Campus Jülich), Germany; B.S. degree in biology at Heinrich-Heine University Düsseldorf, Germany

Nonscientific Interests: Videogames, music, traveling, nature, penguins

Brief Bio: I started my scientific journey in the group of Prof. Andreas Weber at Heinrich-Heine University, Düsseldorf, where (at that time) Privatdozentin Dr. Nicole Linka (now Prof. Linka) and Ph.D. student Björn Hielscher (now Dr. Hielscher) introduced me to plant biochemistry. During my B.S. thesis, I studied the colocalization of putative peroxisomal transporters, which further increased my interest in biology, especially molecular biology and plant science. As a result, I pursued my M.S. degree in biotechnology at FH Aachen (Campus Jülich). For my M.S. thesis, I worked with Dr. Borjana Arsova and Prof. Michelle Watt in the Root Dynamics Group at IBG-2, Forschungszentrum Jülich, and Prof. Ingar Janzik (FH Aachen). This is when I delved into studying the molecular mechanisms of plant–microbe interactions. While exploring the potential benefits of such interactions on plant performance, we encountered an unexpected development. The bacterium stock, sent to us by a colleague, was identified as a different strain than expected. Nonetheless, since the experiments showed promising results, I continued studying the new bacterium, which turned out to be a Pseudomonas strain. Another positive development occurred when I was offered a Ph.D. student position in the Jülich-Melbourne Postgraduate Academy (JUMPA) in 2019. This opportunity also included a one-year stay at the partner institution, the University of Melbourne in Victoria, Australia. Awesome! Additionally, I got an interdisciplinary supervisor team consisting of Dr. Borjana Arsova (IBG-2, FZJ), Prof. Pitter Huesgen (ZEA-3, FZJ), Prof. Michelle Watt (University of Melbourne), Prof. Ute Roessner (Australian National University), and Prof. Gabriel Schaaf (University of Bonn).

I accepted the offer without much hesitation, as I was already determined to understand the underlying mechanisms of plant–microbe interactions and wanted to utilize this time to optimize my studies. However, like everyone else, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 brought about significant changes. Dealing with numerous restrictions, we decided to utilize the lockdown period to prepare a review on Pseudomonas–plant interactions, with a focus on the molecular mechanisms that increase nitrogen content in plants and the influence of the abiotic environment on this interaction.

Almost three years later, I finally had the opportunity to spend two months at the University of Melbourne. During this stay, I had the opportunity to interact with several great people, to learn about the challenges of untargeted lipid analyses (lipidomics), and to experience working on another continent. At the same time, I had the privilege of observing penguins (Eudyptula minor) in their natural habitat for the first time on Phillip Island, Victoria, Australia. I did not expect one of my childhood dreams to come true so quickly; thus, I had to adapt my plans: I now want to observe all penguin species in their natural habitats during my lifetime. Science makes this possible, as we are able to work on various continents. From my personal point of view, I highly recommend exchange programs for Ph.D. students, as it expands your perspective on the world, which also changes your perspective on science. Keep in mind that adapting to a new environment will take some time, so do not pack your schedule too tight (or you might miss your "penguins")!

I have now reached a point where I can summarize the findings of the past few years and prepare to embark on my first postdoc position after completing my Ph.D. degree. Plant–microbe interactions offer interdisciplinary research opportunities that incorporate a variety of methods to unravel the molecular mechanisms involved. This makes the field particularly fascinating, as I can grow alongside the project and gain insights into various factors influencing this complex system.

Learn more about the research project in "Review Highlight: Molecular Mechanisms of Pseudomonas Assisted Plant Nitrogen Uptake—Opportunities for Modern Agriculture" by Borjana Arsova.

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