(If you’re here for the first time check out excerpts 1-31 in earlier Blogs )
Maddie came in a little bit later than usual the next morning, but made up for it by working like a zombie the whole morning. She sat down at the computer and proceeded to print out all the results she had so far. This she did for the ozone data as well as the yield data. Then she went down to the copy room and made overheads.
At eleven fifty-five she walked into the group meeting and set up the overhead projector. As soon as the group was done with general items Dr. Gates asked if there were any research reports.
She was the first to raise her hand. “I have one.”
“All right Maddie, shoot.”
She got up and walked to the projector switching on the light.
“Last season, toward the end of the summer, I noticed some patterns in my field. At first I thought I was having delayed maturity problems due to the wild parents. A lot of my lines were still quite green, but then there was this other group that was already yellowing, showing signs of approaching senescence. But when I looked more closely, I saw that the problem was not late maturity, but early maturity. The early lines actually had the bronzing and symptoms of ozone damage. The later lines were actually perfectly healthy.”
Dr. Gates turned to Edgar, “Edgar, did you see any of this ozone damage?”
“Well, yes, she showed me,” Edgar admitted, “but I didn’t make much of it.”
“Go on, Maddie,” Dr. Gates urged.
“Well, I tagged all the plants. It turned out to be just in the families within a single cross, so most of the stuff I collected turned out to be a whole lot of superfluous data,” she rolled her eyes, “but anyway, the cross with line 4325 was showing segregation between families and within families.” She now pointed to the screen, “Turns out, there was a three to one ratio, three quarters of the lines in this cross were showing some resistance.”
She looked at her audience and made a sweeping motion, “all the rest of the field was suffering from symptoms of ozone damage, but these lines were doing okay.”
“So you have a gene for ozone resistance?” Dr. Gates asked.
Maddie nodded, smiling.
“Way to go.” She heard, from someone, in the back of the room.
“How did you happen to miss this in the first year?” Edgar asked.
“I wasn’t looking for ozone resistance. In fact, last year we didn’t have any ozone damage. Right?” She looked at Edgar for confirmation. After all, there was no one more familiar with field conditions.
“She’s right,” he turned to Dr. Gates.
Maddie put up another overhead. “Then, I went into the lab and ran gels for the same families. The results were disappointing, as you can see by this picture. I didn’t find any seed protein that would correlate.”
“But you have the gene,” Alex interjected.
“Well Maddie, this is very good,” Dr. Gates said. “The genetic work you’ve done is very solid, classically simple.”
“Yeah, old Mendel’s still relevant.” She brushed it off, but felt warmed inside. Compliments from Dr. Gates were rare.
“I don’t want to take up all the meeting’s time, but I also have yield results.” She looked at Dr. Gates, not knowing whether she should continue.
“Why don’t you bring those to my office this afternoon and we’ll go over them,” Dr. Gates suggested. “Let Ned here report on a few things.”
It wasn’t until three thirty that he actually had time to meet with her and she kept herself busy the whole interval, never allowing her mind to wander. She was very good at going on automatic pilot and not dwelling on extraneous things, things that didn’t mean anything. But it flashed through her mind anyway. When their lips had separated her eyes had remained shut and her body had leaned forward, wanting more. But her hands had found only air. How embarrassing.
But it was just as well. Where he would have taken it, she had no intention of going.
The first question Dr. Gates asked was why she hadn’t brought up the ozone issue sooner. Instead of apologizing, like she knew she should, she stated simply that she hadn’t had all the details and had wanted to investigate fully before she reported.
She watched him frown, then apparently let it go. What had gotten into her, anyway? She felt strangely aloof, a sort of “don’t mess with me” feeling.
He asked to see the yield data and she presented him with the mean yields of all lines, listed in descending order, with the type of “band 34” protein in the adjacent column.
The highest yielding line was a 34A type, which was not the most effective resistance type.
“That’s not a bad yield, compared to the cultivated parent. Is this the one with the highest resistance rating?” he asked.
“No, that would be band 34C, it’s down here.” She moved her finger down the column.
“Well, then these top ones are not going to be useful with that band type,” he said, dismissing the highest yielders.
Maddie was not willing to concede that point yet. “Well, we have all the band types represented in the top ten. None of them are too far off from the parent in yield.”
“Do you have it broken down by location?”
“Uh-hum, the next two columns show the ranking in Arlington and in Hancock.”
“Oh, okay, I see.”
“Most of the lines did well in one location and poorly in the other. These top ten had the most stable yield, I would say, although their ranking varies between locations.” She pointed to one of her top ten picks, which did not have the highest yield. “This one I included because it happened to have the ozone resistance gene, although I don’t know if it’s homozygous[i] or heterozygous[ii].”
“And it has the 34C band?” he was looking at the rest of the column.
“Excellent! That puts us one step closer to being able to release a cultivar with both Rusty Leaf Spot resistance and Ozone resistance. Now—” he paused, “you’re growing all these lines out in the greenhouse?”
“And you’re going to cross the gene for the Bean Lesion Virus resistance into this line.”
“My plants flowered a couple of weeks ago, so I crossed the BLV gene into all four band 34 types.” She was one step ahead of him.
“Well, we can discard the type A, B and D. We want to be able to move this one, with band 34C and ozone resistance, into an intensive yield selection program this summer.”
Once again, Maddie saw red flags, but she didn’t open her mouth. She was trying to think of some diplomatic way of bringing it up. He continued to outline his plan, “We’ll do within family selections and bulk them to advance—“
“Excuse me, Dr. Gates, but wouldn’t it be advisable to continue selection in the other band types too?”
“Well…” she cast her glance around the room for an answer, a quick answer. Her eyes landed on a mustard book cover on his shelf, and the title PLANT BREEDING II jumped out at her.
“I’ve been reading…” she got up and went to the shelf, grabbing the book and quickly leafing through its pages, “Here it is!” she read the paragraph out loud “Coyne and Schuster suggest that specific resistance may be used more effectively to provide a longer-lasting and stable protection by utilizing gene pyramiding, multilines, multiplasm and regional deployment of genes.”
Dr. Gates looked blank. But she knew the scientists she had quoted were well-respected bean breeders, and even personal friends of his. “Maddie, what are you getting at?”
“Well, here, just listen to one more line: ‘A few, identically uniform cultivars may place much selection pressure on pathogen populations.’ That is what I’m getting at!”
“Dr. Gates, we have a unique opportunity here, it seems to me, to,” pause, “instead of developing a pure line cultivar, develop and test out a multiline, with all four resistance alleles, so that…” Damn the struggle for coherent words! “So that we circumvent this problem of too much uniformity, and of putting pressure on the pathogen to mutate and develop more virulent races. I mean, they have already identified half a dozen races in North America, in Africa they have eight, in South America—“
“Maddie, I know that. But the genes you have are not equally strong, in fact several of the band types are actually very weak forms of resistance.”
She was momentarily stumped, then asked, “Who said they have to be equally strong in order to make a successful multiline?”
She pressed her advantage. “Is there data on that?”
“I’m not particularly aware.”
“Then it may not be necessary! That’s just it, we don’t know!”
“All these ideas would be well and good, if we were working for third world markets, but here in the U.S., seed companies, farmers, want only the best. And band 34C is the best. We can’t go chasing chimeras. You remember, we talked; I told you when you came, that I wanted your thesis to go a long way towards actually developing a breeding line that could be released soon. Now, as far as I’m concerned, you’re right on schedule, if you don’t get sidetracked…”
Maddie’s heart sank. But anyone who knew her would recognize the stubborn set of her jaw. Her mother had once told her that when she was a toddler she would hold her breath and almost pass out if she didn’t get what she wanted. Those traits of the child had not disappeared, only become transformed in the adult. She was willing to bide her time.
“Now, let’s discuss your next step.” Dr. Gates was going on, making demands on her time, “in the next couple of weeks you can…”
Maddie’s mind drifted. Didn’t he realize her prelims were just around the corner? She felt the pressure mounting beyond what she could stand.
“Dr. Gates, excuse me, my prelims are in two weeks. I need to focus. I won’t be able to tackle any of this until after.”
He remained impassive. “Well, right after, then.”
At her desk Maddie grabbed her backpack and started shoving stuff into it. “I gotta get out of here!” she hissed, under her breath. She collected her prelim notebook and a bunch of other books. Her backpack weighed a ton.
“Did you say something to me, Maddie?” Emily looked up from her desk.
“No. I’m sorry. I…I’m gonna go study off campus.” she said.
“Are you not going to the Plant Breeding seminar, then?”
“No, I’m gonna pass. Bye.”
When she opened the door she looked both ways before stepping out into the hallway. And when she left the building it was with the clear intention of studying elsewhere for the whole weekend, even if it meant going to some neighborhood library, somewhere where a certain graduate student didn’t hang out!
GLOBAL BOOK CLUB DISCUSSION!
Hey! I’m really interested in your comments.* Please join this global bookclub discussion by leaving a comment below (in the comments box)
DISCUSSION QUESTION 32: How does this Maddie compare with the Maddie of one year ago?
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