There's life at university in lockdown

There's life at uni in lockdown

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In this week's The Gauge, Ian Godwin ponders how young scientists are continuing work critical to the future of agriculture despite COVID-19 challenges.

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Life in lockdown. Plenty of time for contemplation and to consider the things that matter to us most.

I've been at university now for 40 years (I think that's two life sentences).

Admittedly only seven of those years were as an actual officially recognised student, but even the last 33 years have been a wonderful learning experiences.

I get to wake up every morning and go and spend my days with really smart and passionate people.

So, biased though I am, I do like these things that we call universities.

Universities have given me opportunities I could never have dreamt of as a kid, walking to school barefoot in suburban Brisbane.

Developing friendships and collaborations all over the world.

Eating things I didn't know were edible, like tortoises, bamboo maggots, bee larvae, orange fungi growing out of the backs of caterpillars (and that's just one meal in China).

Discovering there are beers better than XXXX (it's become a very long list).

Finding out you can make alcohol out of sorghum, but that you probably shouldn't.

With my fellow scientists I've been able to see how the applications of plant genetics have the ability to really transform people's lives.

Yet today, my university seems unnervingly quiet.

I just walked along my COVID-19 silent corridor.

It's over 70 metres long and I have the whole place to myself.

From here, I could be the only person alive on the planet, except for the guy with the grass trimmer outside who seems to know whenever I'm on a Zoom meeting.

All is not lost. Just a quick walk across the wasteland past the shuttered cafes and burger joints, and I'm in another world. My lab.

It's still full of young smart people doing amazing research aimed at delivering new cereal varieties using gene editing and genomics techniques.

They're still here.

Staff, PhD, masters and undergraduate students all working harder than ever to push back the frontiers science.

There are people from every continent (OK, nobody from Antarctica. The penguins were hopeless at pipetting and not a single one of them could get the lid off an Eppendorf tube).

Ian Godwin is the Director of the Centre for Crop Science at QAAFI at the University of Queensland.

Ian Godwin is the Director of the Centre for Crop Science at QAAFI at the University of Queensland.

Some of the team aren't in the lab right now.

They are out in the field making sure Rutherglen bugs and ergot don't cause too much damage to our new sorghum lines.

We'll harvest at the end of the month, then take the grain on a road trip to Sydney (after the borders open, and subject to regulatory compliance) to feed to meat chickens. More protein, larger grain, more digestible. The chooks will love it.

These young scientists are the future of agricultural research in Australia.

Right across the country, they are continuing this essential research.

They underpin the efforts to make agriculture more productive, more sustainable and get closer to that goal of $100 billion into the Australian economy every year.

Yet some of them don't even get paid.

They are doing it for their education and future, while their jobs at cafes, Maccas and the cinemas have disappeared into the global pandemic hiatus.

We should be so proud of them.

- Ian Godwin is the Director of the Centre for Crop Science at QAAFI at the University of Queensland. He is the author of Good Enough to Eat? Next Generation GM Crops.

The story There's life at university in lockdown first appeared on Farm Online.

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