Student helps potatoes grow

Student helps potatoes grow


SHE may not have come from an agricultural background, but Mee-Yung Shin is passionate about helping growers manage and prevent plant disease.

WORKING in agriculture didn’t come naturally for Mee-Yung Shin, but the 26 year-old is on her way to completing a PhD in plant pathology.


Ms Shin completed a Bachelor of Agriculture at the University of Melbourne, Parkville, graduating with honours in 2015, and said her project was what inspired her to continue with her studies.

“I did the Bachelor of Agriculture, and then heard about the honours year, which was a research, practical year built into an undergraduate degree,” Ms Shin said.

“I decided I wanted to do honours, and I really, really loved it, and then the PhD topic my supervisor offered me ended up being a good fit.”

Ms Shin is studying how Verticillium wilt pathogens interact with potatoes, in an attempt to help growers manage the disease.

“Verticillium wilt is a disease found in potatoes, where the pathogen interrupts water flow within the plant, which will result in the plant collapsing from a lack of water towards the middle to late end of the season,” she said.

“I’m studying how the pathogens infect and colonise the plant itself, and then how we might be able to manage that.

“So far, I’ve looked at the two major Verticillium pathogens in Australia that affect potato crops, and studied the pathogenicity of those two species on a resistant and susceptible potato variety, to see how aggressive they are in killing the plant.”

Student studies plant pathology

Ms Shin had partially completed another degree before coming to Melbourne, and said it was that degree that set her up to study agriculture.

“I studied a Bachelor of Urban Planning at the University of New South Wales, and while it was a good degree, it wasn’t a perfect suit for me,” she said.

“At the time, sustainability and ethical food production were quite hot topics, and I thought it would be quite interesting to come to Melbourne and do the degree.”

She said the end goal is to offer management techniques to farmers.

“A lot of farmers these days are quite interested in using soil amendments in managing pathogens, so as part of my research, I’m looking at how lignite might reduce the incidence of Verticillium pathogens in the soil, which for farmers is good news because it’s environmentally and economically sustainable,” she said.

She said the biggest learning curve so far has been working with farmers.

“I come from an urban background, so all of the on-field stuff, and all of the technical speak, is quite new to me,” she said.

“But it’s just about exposing yourself a little more to it, and being open to learning new things.”

With at least two years still ahead of her in the PhD, Ms Shin said she hopes to one day take her research abroad.

“A big goal of mine is to go overseas once I’m done, I’d love to get a job at a research institution overseas,” she said.

“Europe would be quite interesting, because my PhD project is quite focused on the management of plant diseases, and in Europe they’re quite conscious about genetic modification, so it would be interesting to see what sort of management methods I could research over there.”


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