I’m Plant Scientist Jenny Mortimer, And this is how I work.

Location: Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), Lawrence Berkeley National Lab

Current job/title: Director of Plant Systems Biology

One word that describes how you work: enthusiastically. I’m conscious of the fact that I’m lucky that I get to do something I’m passionate about.Jenny Mortimer

Favorite thing you do at work: Learn

Favorite plant: Arabidopsis (boring I know, but the more I study it, the more interesting it gets),or, due to a recent visit to southern California, the Joshua Tree.

One interesting project you have been working on: I’m fascinated by the plant cell wall. Humans rely on it for so much (fabric, paper, fuel, animal feed, fiber), and it’s critical to plant cell function. We’re working to engineer the cell wall so that it’s a better feedstock for biofuel production, without making a sick plant.

What is your workspace setup like?: I’m now almost entirely office based, so I have 3 monitors and a laptop dock. My office lacks windows, so I have some long-suffering succulent plants – the only species that have survived so far. My wall is gradually filling with various images of plants including Robert Hooke’s cork (cell walls!) and some of the fabulous glass botany teaching aids I saw in the Harvard natural history museum last year (http://hmnh.harvard.edu/glass-flowers).

What’s some of the best advice you’ve ever received?: Take the next step before you think you’re ready. I was waiting to get enough papers before I applied for faculty positions. An excellent mentor pointed out that (1) you will never feel you have enough and (2) you need feedback from the application/rejection cycle, so that when the perfect job is advertised, you write the best application/give the best interview talk you could. Your best is not going to be the first one you do.

If a magical scientific genie appeared from an erlenmeyer flask in your lab, what would you ask for?: Faster growing plants! The microbiologists at JBEI can’t believe how we cope with the generation times.

What have been the biggest productivity tools you’ve been using either for a long time or recently adopted? – Google Calendar. In particular, I block out time for writing, especially near deadlines. Our whole organization has access, so they can check to see when you’re free.

What do you spend time thinking about that’s not your next proposal, publication, or project deadline?: I started my research group 18 months ago. The transition from postdoc to PI is pretty daunting. I’m spending a lot of time thinking about my group, ensuring that everyone is happy, and that I’m being the best facilitator I can be. I’m also thinking about out how to work within the national lab environment (which is quite different from a university) and build my network.

How do you learn new things?: Listening. I’m fortunate that I have access to experts in so many different fields – free seminars on campus, online talks, podcasts and conferences. You can’t beat listening to someone who’s enthusiastic about their topic.

Music, silence, white noise – what works for you?: Music! Electronica, blues, funk, whatever – Spotify is great. Cricket commentary is also a favourite choice, although I haven’t been able to get TMS [editor’s note: a BBC broadcast] since I moved to the USA…

What do you do when the pipette is down and the computer is powered off?: Exploring. Science means that you often move, so once again I find myself in a new place (California) where there is so much to do, especially outdoors. Two years ago I was in Japan, and before that the UK, so there’s been some big changes!

If you’re OK sharing, what’s one way readers can get in touch or follow along with your work (email, blog, twitter, etc.) –

Twitter: @jenny_mortimer1

Tag who’s next. I’d love to see Alex Webb answer these questions or Mat Lewsey who I did my undergrad with in Bristol, my PhD with in Cambridge and he’s now a postdoc at the Salk, but he’s starting his own group in Australia next month.


1 thought on “I’m Plant Scientist Jenny Mortimer, And this is how I work.”

  1. Hello Jenny,
    Good morning. As a plant scientist you have achieved a lot. I’m a Ph.D. in Botany: Biodiversity and Biotechnology (Interdisciplinary) and interested to join under you as a Post Doctoral Fellow.
    I, Dr.Trupti Mohapatra, currently working as a Research Associate (Extended SRF) at Institute of Life Sciences, Bhubaneswar, Odisha, India. My core area of research is rice in relation to grain filling. If I’ll get a chance to work with you as a post doctoral fellow, I’ll be glad.

    Madam, I’m giving you a brief idea of work carried out by me in various laboratories as follows:

    I am a Ph.D. in an interdisciplinary area of Botany:Biodiversity and Biotechnology. Upon earning my Masters degree, I have worked in several reputed Research Institutes where I have been involved in various R&D programmes focussing on stress tolerance and crop improvement involving Lichens and Crop plant systems. My Doctoral research, at M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai, focussed on identification and characterization of novel stress resistance gene(s) from Lichen system. I have carried out assessment of biodiversity of lichen species in various stressed environments in the Western Ghats region, in South India, identified elite lichen species tolerant to such extreme environmental conditions and established in vitro cultures of the lichen species. A cDNA library from the candidate lichen species, Roccella montagnei Bél. was developed for which protocols were standardized. ESTs were generated, identified and analysed using NCBI database which were then annotated and characterized. The ESTs were clustered and assembled into Unigene set in the library. Gene(s) for abiotic stress tolerance, especially a putative gene coding for Glutathione S- transferase was identified which was characterized through in silico and Phylogenetic analyses. Cloning and expression studies to establish the stress tolerance activity of the identified GST gene were also carried out.

    At present, at Institute of Life Sciences, Bhubaneswar, Odisha, I am involved in studies on the temporal and spatial expression of various genes and its pathways related to grain filling in hybrid rice varieties wherein I am carrying out analysis of the expression pattern of enzymes involved in ethylene biosynthesis, signalling, and its role in grain filling during endosperm development using qRT-PCR. I am also in the process of identification of varietal and region-specific difference in the expression of the genes involved in the production of ethylene, and inhibition of grain filling by northern analysis using the gene-specific PCR amplified fragments as probe.

    I am also involved in a collaborative research programme in Mycology with Dr. Bernard Paul’s Laboratory at Mycologie et de Phytopathologie, Institut Jules Guyot, Université de Bourgogne, France, which is working on biological control of the grapevine diseases ‘grey mold’ and ‘powdery mildew’ by using strains of Bacillus species. Through my years of research I have achieved wide-ranging research experience in molecular biology, genetics, genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, bioinformatics, plant tissue culture and bioprospecting.

    With my multi dimensional research experience and a strong interdisciplinary academic background, I am confident to be able to find compatibility as a Post-Doctoral Fellow in your research group. I look forward to a positive response from you.

    I need your email id to send my complete CV.
    Thanking you,

    With Best Regards,


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