Learning from Diversity

Interview with IdeaConnection Problem Solver Perrin Beatty
Perrin Beatty’s background is in microbiology and molecular biology in bacteria, but in the last five or so years, she has transferred over to working with plants, in particular monocot crop plants. As a problem solver with IdeaConnection she received an award while participating in the crop yield Idea Rally.

photo of Perrin BeattyBefore we talk about your involvement with IdeaConnection why the switch from bacteria to plants? Did something hook you?

Well actually it was the people. I was looking for a postdoc and one came up doing molecular work in plants and I knew of the people and thought they’d be great to work with. Also, I just fell in love with the project because it's very applied. It's trying to improve agriculture, trying to improve the way we grow crop plants so that we can reduce the amount of pollution that we are putting out there with nitrogen fertilizers. So it had a great application that I loved.

It was something that was actually going to be beneficial to the environment and to people. I liked that part.

What would you say you bring to the field? Is it problem-solving skills, technique, a way of seeing things?

Since I do come from a different background, I have sort of a different angle on the whole thing, a different focus that I think is helpful. Just because it lets you think outside of the box a little bit more. Like a lot of people, I've got troubleshooting skills and that sort of thing as well. But what I also bring to the table is that I like to learn. I'm a bit of a science geek. I really like to delve in and learn how things work and try to solve them.

What are some of your major achievements?

I work at the University of Alberta in Allen Good's lab, and our group was the one that came up with the alanine aminotransferase construct that put into canola or rice, actually improves the nitrogen use efficiency. That was done before I got there, but I've taken that along and done microarray analysis on the transgenic plants to see what kind of affect it has on the transcriptome.

So I have a paper, it's fairly old now, it's 2009, but that's my microarray paper. Since then we've published in a couple of PLoS and Science, but it's on a spin-off topic that we're working on. But our lab is really focused on nitrogen use efficiency, trying to improve it in crop plants so that we can reduce pollution but still keep yield.

You participated in the crop yield Idea Rally – what was the appeal?

I thought this sounds really neat because you can get into conversations with people that you have never met and didn't realize were working in the field. So I really liked it because, not only could I put my own ideas in there, but I could also read everyone else's ideas too.

How involved did you get?

I started a discussion thread and got that going. And I joined a couple of other discussion threads too. But the thread I introduced was the one that I really focused on. There were a lot of questions with it and a lot of interaction. So there was quite a bit of writing to do. I would look at it during work but I would really be joining the discussion after work. So it was at home, at about eleven at night, writing away all my ideas.

And you received an award?

Yes. They gave me an award for one idea, so that was pretty cool.

As well as imparting knowledge, did you find the rally a learning experience?

I learned a lot. What I really liked was learning how other people would put things together. How they would come up with their solution and the different ways that people have of looking at the same problem. So, it was really neat, especially as plants are not my background.

There were all sorts of neat ideas that people had about parts of the plant, like improving parts of the plant to improve yield that I hadn't thought of. So I liked that a lot.

Have you looked at other problem solving challenges with IdeaConnection?

Yes, I have. Some of the things are totally not in my field but they're fascinating anyways. And then there are some things that are in my field. I haven't been able to take advantage or join up to any of the solving teams, but I really would love to. I think that would be really, really fun.

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