In conversation with Susanne von Caemmerer

What do you study and what questions are you trying to answer in your work?

Copyright © Charles Tambiah (All rights reserved - Worldwide).My current research focuses on two areas, the first is to discover ways to enhance C4 photosynthesis by exploring various molecular manipulations of C4 photosynthesis in the model species Setaria viridis. The aim of this investigation is to enhance crop yield in species with this particular photosynthetic pathway, such as sugar cane, maize and sorghum.

The second area aims to discover the role of guard cell chloroplasts and whether they are important for stomatal opening and closing. Guard cells surround the stomatal pores and regulate the gas exchange of leaves and are essential for efficient photosynthetic function.

Who or what influenced your decision to work in science and how?

I had not planned to work in plant science at the beginning of my career. I studied pure mathematics and philosophy, but then I had the opportunity to combine my interest in plant science with mathematics, which I really appreciate.

Apart from science, what are you passionate about?

Life? I am rather low key and enjoy many things such as music, raising children, gardening and travel.

Describe a typical work day for you

 It varies. I like having science meetings with my lab group. New scientific results are always exciting. My favourite days are when I can concentrate on experiments that I do together with Soumi Bala and John Evans. Sometimes I have a lot of administrative work to complete.

What is the role of technology in your job?

It plays a very important role. Many of the scientific questions we can ask and perhaps answer, depend on new technological developments. For example, John Evans and I use a tuneable diode laser to measure stable isotopes of CO2 such as 13CO2 and C18O in air concurrently with gas exchange measurements of photosynthesis. This allows us to explore the stable isotope discrimination during photosynthesis. It is a very recent technology. Before we had to purify cryogenically the CO2 and air and measure the isotope ratio in a mass spectrometer, which was a very laborious and very time consuming procedure.

How much translation and how much photosynthesis does your job involve?

I primarily answer basic questions in photosynthetic research. However I participate in two international consortia, the international C4 rice consortium and RIPE consortium, where we try to translate the insights we have derived from basic research to the field.

What do you enjoy most about being a scientist? What do you enjoy least?

The thrill of discovery and the teamwork required to make these discoveries happen. However being a scientist comes with ever increasing administrative demands that detract from the science.

Have you had a Eureka moment?

Lots of little Eureka moments, which have been very satisfying.

What are you reading these days?

Very little, but I just read Annabel Crabb’s book entitled “The wife drought”, which is a pertinent reminder of how difficult it still is for women to have a career!