top of page

Mary-Jane woodward 


'I'm Mary, a PhD student in Systems Ecology at the VU. I'm fascinated by symbiotic fungi and the integral role these secretive organisms play within ecosystems, as well as their potential to secure a sustainable future for human agriculture.

My research largely intends to explore the nuclear dynamics of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF), and how these dynamics affect interactions with the fungal networks' diverse plant hosts. Initially, I will be applying my experience in molecular cloning and genetic transformation techniques to improve current approaches to genetic transformation of AMF - work that will be aided by our rapidly improving understanding of the genetic organisation systems of these unique fungi. This will hopefully be able to complement the rest of my research, where we will explore more about how these micro-scale interactions have consequences for plant fitness and nutrient exchange between symbiotic partners at scale.

I completed my undergraduate degree in Biology at the University of Oxford, and here I was also able to undertake my Masters with Ronelle Roth. My research investigated the molecular mechanisms underpinning communication between plant and fungus during arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis. In particular, I explored the potential role of extracellular vesicles (membrane-bound nanoparticles involved in intercellular communication and transport) in symbiotic communication. I was able to develop an experimental approach that combined different reporter gene assays for light and fluorescent confocal microscopy, to explore EV biomarker expression at high spatial and temporal resolutions, over arbuscule development.

In my free time, I like to get out into the woods to remind myself of the scale and complexity of life outside a petri dish! I'm also an artist, working with diverse media to explore the interconnectedness of humans, nature, land and science, with the spirit of resistance to injustice. I draw a lot of visual and conceptual inspiration from the fungi and plants I study, and the methods I use in the lab. I'm also super excited about the ways in which science is communicated to non-scientists, and love museums and other unconventional spaces that have the potential to widen access to the joy of learning.'

bottom of page