Cara Wheeldon

Cara began her undergraduate degree in Genetics at the University of Leeds in 2015. She first joined the lab in 2017 for a summer internship in between her second and third year where she compared root system architecture in elite winter wheat varieties over a 3-week timeframe and carried out several studies of branching and fruit production in Arabidopsis thaliana. She then went on to carry out her undergraduate research project in the lab where her journey into growing plants in different sized containers began.

Cara soon realised that Plant Science was for her and she accepted a role as a technician between graduating her undergraduate degree and beginning her MSc by Research, also in the Bennett Lab. As a technician she carried out extensive, detailed phenotyping of shoot system growth and yield formation in 50 spring wheat land races from across the globe.

During her MSc by Research, Cara explored how plants detect and respond to components of their soil environment, such as soil depth, soil volume and the presence of other plants in wheat, pea and Arabidopsis. She discovered that her key interest was in cereal research so accepted a PhD in the Bennett Lab exploring the mechanisms underpinning soil volume responses in Barley.

So far in her PhD Cara has identified that plants have a two-step root exudate system to perceive available soil volume (Wheeldon et al, 2020, Plant, Cell and Environment). She is currently researching how plants respond to limitations in their soil volume, and whether this varies between and within species. She is also investigating how plants communicate information about their belowground space to the shoot using long distance signalling. Overall, Cara aims to identify germplasm and mechanisms which can reduce crop growth inhibition by rhizosphere stimuli.

Cara has a keen interest in educational outreach and has taken an active role in the University of Leeds Educational engagement team since 2018. During her PhD, she has worked as an Educational Outreach Fellow delivering talks to 11-18 year olds on topics in Biological science in schools, virtually and at the university. She delivers hands on practical classes based around her PhD project to showcase the importance of plant science research and to highlight the diverse topics which can be studied in the Faculty of Biological Sciences at the University of Leeds

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