Mike Ogden: Humans of BioSciences
Meet Mike Ogden, joint-PhD candidate in the Melbourne-Potsdam PhD Programme (MelPoPP) with University of Melbourne (UoM), Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology (MPI-MP) and the University of Potsdam (UP) in Germany. Mike's research in plant molecular biology explores approaches to understanding how nitrogen regulates plant cell wall synthesis and root growth. He is interested in how plants respond to stressful growth conditions, such as nutrient deficiency or pest attack and "aims to identify new genes and molecular pathways responsible for these damage responses, which cause drastic changes in plant root growth."
Mike's PhD studies have taken him from Canada where he was born, to Australia and Germany where he is currently based at MPI-MP. Mike's PhD is supervised by Dr Rainer Hoefgen at MPI-MP, and Professor Ute Roessner, Professor Staffan Persson and Dr Ghazanfar Khan at UoM. Moving countries, connecting with his supervisors, and navigating different lab environments during a PhD can be challenging (especially during a pandemic), however Mike has found the experience very rewarding. "It is very unique to learn in different institutes, surrounded by such a diverse range of passionate researchers across many scientific fields and cultures."
What problem are you trying to solve with your research?
Plants are sessile organisms that are rooted in place. When faced with stressful growth conditions, such as nutrient deficiency or pest attack, plants respond in different ways to deal with each problem. If a plant senses that there isn’t enough of a certain nutrient in the soil, it can alter root growth to explore new areas of soil, or if it senses attack by pests or pathogens, it can alter the sugar-based “building blocks” of its tissues so that they are tougher and harder to penetrate. I’m interested in understanding how root growth and tissue composition changes when the cellulose sugar “building block” is degraded under low and high nutrient availability. My research aims to identify new genes and molecular pathways responsible for these damage responses, which cause drastic changes in plant root growth.
What inspired you to pursue plant science and what do you hope to do in the future?
At a young age, after seeing an incredible hydroponics display where plants grew without any soil, I became very interested in understanding plant biology. I was fortunate to have excellent plant science teachers throughout high school and undergraduate studies at the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada, where I was born. After completing an Honours research project in a plant science lab, I went on to complete a Master of Science degree at McGill University in Canada where I studied sugar synthesis in plants. It was at this point when I became certain that I want to continue research in plant molecular biology. After completing my PhD, my goal is to focus on applying my research to agriculture, to improve plant growth especially under unfavourable conditions.
What is it like to do an international joint PhD, and how has the pandemic impacted your research?
My time in the MelPoPP programme has been an incredibly rewarding experience. It is very unique to learn in different institutes, surrounded by such a diverse range of passionate researchers across many scientific fields and cultures. I had my bags packed and was en route to the Berlin airport to fly to Australia and complete my PhD when Australia announced that they were closing their borders, so that caused a big change in my plans. I decided to stay in Germany to complete my PhD, which meant that I had to alter the timeline for experiments and modify my project. Fortunately, I am still able to continue my research, although in a more limited capacity at times.
What do you enjoy doing outside of science?
I love to travel and experience new food and cultures with friends, which is a nice perk of being in a joint PhD programme. During the summer I like to hike, camp, and fly fish – this was a great way to see some hidden gems off the beaten path in Australia! When the winters are icy, I’ll have my skates ready for a game of ice hockey.
Find Out More
Mike Ogden Profile: MelPoPP / LinkedIn / Google Scholar
Melbourne-Potsdam PhD Programme (MelPoPP)
Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology (MPI-MP)
'Humans of BioSciences' is a special series to introduce the School of BioSciences' undergrad and postgrad students, our academics, professional staff and associates.