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Plant science prof appointed
to international biotech group

Carol Auer, an assistant professor of plant science, has been appointed as an international associate to the Swedish Centre of Forest Biotechnology and Chemistry, to work on improving plant growth through the regulation of plant hormones.

The centre, supported by the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research and industry funds, works on a broad range of basic and applied plant biotechnology projects. Special funds are provided to secure scientists from the international community that can contribute to the research program. Auer, whose appointment will last for three years, will contribute to projects that involve genetic and biochemical approaches to modifying plant hormones for the improvement of plant growth.

The appointment is the result of a two-month visit Auer made to the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Umea, Sweden. During that time, she conducted a series of collaborative experiments with Goran Sandberg and his colleagues in the Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology.

"It's an honor to become a part of this plant biotechnology group. International collaborations can be so productive on many levels. I certainly exchanged a lot of information with the scientists I met in Sweden and I've brought home ideas that are really valuable for the graduate students and research projects in my lab right now. When you meet people face-to-face, the building of new projects and the exchange of ideas becomes so much easier," says Auer, who has been at UConn for five years.

Her main research at UConn focuses on cytokinins, one of five types of plant hormones that occur naturally in all plants. Among other functions, cytokinins help keep leaves green and active in the process of photosynthesis.

"If we could understand how cytokinins work, we could use them to change plant growth. For example, we could delay the aging of garden flowers and keep their leaves green until the first frost. Also, we could change the branching pattern of plants, which might increase crop production or make plants more attractive," she says.

Auer not only encourages collaboration between scientists abroad, but also between faculty and students. She conducts her research at the Plant Biotechnology Facility and involves undergraduates in her work.

"Even if these students move into other areas in their careers, exposure to science and lab work is good for them. They learn how to handle frustration, to set goals and to follow plans," she says. "They will be the general public in the future and they will have an idea what science is really about, unlike many. If there were people in the general public with awareness about science, there would be more understanding and support."

Renu Sehgal-Aldrich