Natasha Forester Quentin Sciascia
Tash is originally from Waitotara and has family roots in South Taranaki and Horowhenua. Most of her secondary education was carried out at Turakina Maori Girls’ College in Marton where she learnt many aspects of Māori culture along with traditions taught to her by her family. After secondary school, Tash took a gap year to work at the Waitotara Meat Works to save up for University. In 1992, she attended Massey University to do a BSc in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.On completion of her BSc, Tash began work at the Massey University Molecular Biosciences Institute as a technician in the undergraduate molecular biology laboratories. After a couple of years she moved on to become a research technician in the area of Molecular Microbiology and began part time studies towards an MSc in Biological Sciences. Following a short break to have a baby and write up of her MSc thesis, Tash joined the AgResearch Plant Forage Biotechnologies in 2001 as a research technician in the controlled flowering group. Later she became a research associate in the Plant Molecular Development group led by Dr Bruce Veit. Tash developed an interest in the plant responses to nutrient status which then motivated her to pursue PhD studies in this area.ProjectThe regulation of iron homeostasis in endophyte grass symbioses.
Epichloe festucae is a symbiotic fungal endophyte of cool season grasses such as Lolium perenne, a grass of agronomical importance for New Zealand farming. These fungal endophytes have been shown to confer specific advantages to the plant, includeng the ability to grow in soils where iron and phosphorous is difficult for the plant to obtain.
Siderophores are potent ferric-iron chelators and are found in both partners of the plant endophyte association (symbioses). E. festucae produces an extracellular siderophore of novel structure, epichloenine and an intracellular siderophore, ferricrocin. The loss of ferricrocin has no appreciable effect on the symbiosis, however the secretion of epichloenine is essential to maintain a successful and mutualistic endophyte-grass association. Competition for iron therefore appears to be a critical factor in controlling endophytic fungal growth and hence for mutualism with grasses.The general aim of the PhD program is to extend this area of research while uncovering some of the molecular mechanisms governing the transport, uptake, distribution, chelation and/or sequestration of iron in endophyte grass associations. The information obtained would then be used to clarify the complex and coordinated responses of each symbiotic partner to iron in different chemical environments. E. festucae fungal mutants with impaired functions in iron-uptake/regulation will be the key tool to compare how iron homeostasis is affected in the grass endophyte association.
Quentin was born, raised and educated in the Manawatu and completed his Masters at Massey University. Here he met his wife Anita, and they now have a daughter. His interests include social sports such as hockey, cricket and rugby league. He is also involved with the information technology community and is advocate for the use of open source software.He began work at AgResearch in 2007, and found the research he was involved with compelling enough to apply for a PhD with the group he was working for. Quentin hopes to use his PhD as a focus point for his future career path.ProjectAmino acids as signalling molecules to influence meat and milk production.
Milk protein and red meat are important sources of nutrition for humans and production needs to increase to meet global demand. Milk protein is also is an essential source of nutrition for young animals (including livestock), playing key roles in neonatal survival and postnatal growth and wellbeing. The composition and yield of milk protein is tightly regulated and understanding which factors limit the rate of protein synthesis has been a subject of ongoing commercial and academic interest. Nutrition is arguably one of the most potent and potentially important environmental signals involved in influencing the ability of an animal to reach its genetic potential.
In contrast to traditional nutrition research in ruminants, which has focussed on overall nutrition (feed supply/intake and quality, rumen digestion/absorption etc.), new research indicates that amino acids (AA) are not only substrates for protein synthesis, but also activate a nutrient-sensitive, mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR)-mediated, signalling pathway, ultimately influencing key metabolic pathways including protein synthesis. The mTOR pathway may be a rate-limiting step in protein synthesis in ruminant skeletal muscle and mammary gland. The ability to activate mTOR signalling via AA may provide a new mechanism to enhance the production of meat and milk in ruminants.
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