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Meet the Fellow: Celia Rodríguez Domínguez

Science Must Go On – Soil-Plant Research From Seville to Bayreuth to Paris 

When Junior Fellow Celia Rodríguez Domínguez arrived in Bayreuth for her first research visit in September 2020, she and postdoctoral researcher Mutez Ahmed from the Soil Physics group were on a tight schedule: they had scored precious (and pricey) beamtime at the SOLEIL synchrotron in Paris, which allowed them to forward their experiments on soil-plant responses - a collaboration generously funded by the Bayreuth Humboldt Centre. Celia on the origins and goals of their collaborative project and the importance of international mobility for research.

Photo Dr Rodriguez Dominguez and Dr Ahmed

What is your joint research about?

Celia Rodríguez Domínguez: Our collaboration is based on joining the insights from plant physiologists and soil scientists to better understand the main constraints of plant water use. Plant and soil are two crucial perspectives that we need to fully understand for comprehending plant response to drought. Almost independently, one group from the other, we found that an increase in the hydraulic resistance between the soil and the roots act as an important constraint to plant transpiration by limiting leaf stomatal conductance, which is the gas exchange that occurs through the pores on the leaf surfaces called stomata. Since stomatal responses to drought greatly impact crop production and ecosystem function across the globe, our work together aims at disentangling the role of each component from the soil-plant-atmosphere continuum on the decrease observed in stomatal conductance during drought.

What has happened so far?

We had the opportunity to collaborate with a team from the University of Bordeaux and from INRAE in France and attend a campaign of experiments at the SOLEIL synchrotron in Paris last September. I spent a couple of weeks at UBT prior to our trip to Paris under excellent conditions at both the University (laboratories, the Bayreuth Humboldt Centre,…) and the city (accommodation, facilities…). During this time, we prepared the plants and additional material for our experiment in Paris. Our aim was to “see” how plants (roots) disconnect from the soil during drought with excellent, high-quality images obtained from intact roots at the synchrotron. Currently, I am conducting an experiment at IRNAS-CSIC (Spain) to add the second part of the story, the stomatal characterisation during drought of the same plants (maize). Our results will add more knowledge to the question, among others, of “what is limiting plant water use during drought?”.

Photo Dr Rodriguez Dominguez and Dr Ahmed

What do international research – and mobility – mean to you?

International networking is fundamental within the paths of a research career. It helps to standardise methodologies, and to address specific goals from different perspectives, giving them a pivotal multidisciplinary approach. Situations like the one we are currently living in are complicating, for instance, for students and early-career researchers to visit new laboratories or attend workshops where basic techniques are learned and practiced. Although “thoughts” and ideas can be still shared by several media platforms, practical trainings are impossible unless international research mobility is permitted. In my case, my longer visit to Bayreuth University had to be postponed for 2021. Nevertheless, we were able to conduct this very important experiment between UBT and the SOLEIL synchrotron in Paris. Despite the restrictions that could have slowed down experiment performance, we succeeded and obtained outstanding results from that experiment. Science should and must go on.

Mirjam Horn-Schott

This interview is the first in of our series "Meet the Fellow/Meet the Grantee" and was first published in the Bayreuth Humboldt Centre Prospectus 2021.

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