Rachael Hamby


  • Time Zone

  • Organization
    University of california, Riverside

  • Role
    Scientist Mentor: I will mentor teams of students online

  • Research Interests (300 words)
    I am broadly interested in the molecular mechanisms responsible for plant-microbe interactions, and on how we can utilize these mechanisms to design novel disease management strategies. As a second year PhD student, my main project is developing RNA-based fungicides for crop protection. Fungal pathogens are responsible for severe crop losses worldwide. Defending crops against fungal disease is critical for global food security, however, most current disease management approaches rely on chemical fungicides that can leave dangerous residues in the environment. Recently, it has been discovered that some species of fungi can efficiently take up RNAs originating from their host plant and the environment, which can target and silence fungal genes. These discoveries have inspired the development of spray-induced gene silencing (SIGS), an innovative crop protection strategy involving the foliar application of RNAs which target and silence fungal virulence genes for plant protection against fungal pathogens. Unlike most traditional pesticides, RNAs degrade rapidly in the environment. This lack of stability currently limits the practicality of SIGS in agriculture, so my current goal is to design and test strategies to enhance RNA stability to lengthen the period that they offer crop protection.

  • Profile Question 1
    What is your favorite plant? Why?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 1 here (300 words):
    My favorite plant is bitterroot, Lewisia rediviva. In Eastern Washington, where I am originally from, they would grow straight out of cracks in the rock where seemingly no other plants could thrive. They marked the end of winter my sprouting small green succulent fingerlike projections in early spring, easy to miss if you do not know what to look for. In late spring, however, after gathering sufficient energy from the sun, however, in late spring these small leaves wither away and are replaced by brilliant pink flowers which are impossible to miss. The first time I saw bitterroot was while I was an undergraduate doing my first independent research experiment in the field. In this field, I had several 1m2 plots marked only with a small pink flag close to the ground in each corner. Previously, they had been effective markers, but with bloomed bitterroot flowers all around, my pink markers were perfectly camouflaged. Bitterroot was first collected for western science by Meriwether Lewis in 1806, and after being dug up and dried for months, was able to be planted and revived upon its delivery to Philadelphia. Its scientific name Lewisia rediviva is in honor of Lewis the collector and its ability to be “revived”. Long before this, they were an important food source for many Native American tribes, for despite their deceptively small appearance above ground, these plants possess large nutritious tubers for storing energy through the winter. I love this plant because of its history and beauty, and how it marks the emergence and ending of Spring.

  • Profile Question 2
    What is the coolest thing you have discovered or learned about plants?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 2 here (300 words):
    Because plants can’t move to escape threats, the molecular signaling pathways within their cells are of critical importance to protect them from herbivory, disease, and other stressors like drought or flooding. Most intriguing to me is that they are constantly at war with their pathogens. My favorite example of this is cross-kingdom RNA interference, in which plants send small RNA molecules into their fungal pathogens to target and silence fungal virulence genes. In turn, fungus send RNAs into their plant hosts to target and silence plant defense genes.

  • Profile Question 3
    What is a typical day like for you?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 3 here (300 words):
    As a graduate student, I don’t really have a typical day, and that is perhaps what I appreciate most about academia, the variety. To be very general, I would say I arrive to my office around 8AM most mornings. My first task is always to check my e-mail, and answer anything urgent. Next, I get out my planner, and make a list of my goals for the day. This is the most helpful thing I can do for myself to maximize my productivity. I generally sort tasks into four categories; 1) Classwork 2) Lab work 3) Greenhouse work, and 4) Writing. In the morning, when my brain is fresh, I like to tackle any writing or homework that needs to be done. Then, before lunch, I usually try and go to the greenhouse to take care of my plants. This gives me the entire afternoon to spend in the lab. This schedule is always changing though. If I have an exam coming up, or a long experiment, I must dedicate entire days to studying or lab work. Therefore, it is critical to always have a flexible schedule as a graduate student. I try to leave everyday by 6PM and spend time in the evening running or rock climbing. For me, physical exercise and time to myself prevents me from feeling burnt out and increases my productivity.

  • Help represent the outreach efforts of your societies. Please click all those organizations you are a member of:
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  • Capacity: How many teams at a time are you comfortable working with?

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