Catching up with Alice

We find out more about this enthusiastic PhD student who started her own YouTube channel.
By Mia Cerfonteyn

Walking through the corridors of The Sainsbury Laboratory, you can hear Alice’s laughter before you see her. Known for her energetic spirit and helpful nature, this devoted PhD student is either sharing her home baked goods in the coffee room or peering into a microscope trying to unlock the secrets of fungal pathogens.

Like all the research done at The Sainsbury Laboratory, Alice Eseola aims to expand our fundamental knowledge of plant-pathogen interactions so that we can find more innovative ways to strengthen the innate disease resistance of plants. And like all the researchers at our Laboratory, Alice’s story extends far beyond her research.

Alice Eseola standing outside the door to the microscopy suite at The Sainsbury Laboratory

As we were chatting next to the courtyard fishpond watching the koi fish swim up to us expectantly, Alice casually mentions that they had a poultry and fish farm where she grew up in Ibadan, Nigeria.

“But my father cared too much for the fish’s wellbeing, so we couldn’t farm them at the densities that were needed to be profitable”. He ended up selling the farm and investing a big chunk of that money into Alice’s education.

It’s fitting that a story about the unsustainable pressures in fish farming turned into a story about investing into knowledge to find healthier, more sustainable methods to secure food supplies for our future.

Alice is a fourth-year PhD candidate in the Talbot lab where she researches the temporal dynamics of organelles during appressorium development in the fungal pathogen, Magnaporthe oryzae, which causes the devastating rice blast disease. An appressorium is a specialized infection structure that generates enormous pressure and allows the fungus to rupture the tough rice cuticle. Alice uses live-cell imaging and fluorescent markers to precisely monitor the fates of each organelle during appressorial development and identify the mechanisms that regulate appressorium-mediated plant infection in the rice blast fungus.

An image of Magnaporthe oryzae conidia with its vacuoles colour-coded in Z-position.

An image of Magnaporthe oryzae conidia with its vacuoles colour-coded in Z-position.

My reason for meeting with Alice was because I was curious about how she had started her own YouTube channel alongside her PhD, an admirable feat for many of us introverted scientists.

“At the early stages of my PhD when I first started doing image analyses with ImageJ software, I spent a lot of my time searching the internet for "HOW TO". I realised it was easier for me to learn by watching tutorial videos. Unfortunately, there were no videos for some of the analyses I wanted to do. After learning how to do these analyses, I decided to record the tutorials and publish them on YouTube to assist someone else. People really seemed to appreciate the tutorials, and it’s incredibly rewarding when they reach out to me to let me know how much I had helped them with their own research.”

The message is powerful in its simplicity and demonstrates how easy it is to share knowledge and pave the way for others. The less time other scientists need to spend on reinventing the wheel, the more energy is available to push science forward. Collaboration is at the heart of what we do.

Alice also shares videos about her second passion, cooking, for those interested in learning delicious new recipes.

Alice also shares videos about her second passion, cooking, for those interested in learning delicious new recipes.

Like with many stories, Alice didn’t know that she would end up doing a PhD in plant pathology when she first set out for her degree. She initially studied Botany for her BSc at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, after which she moved to Germany to pursue an MSc in Crop Protection at the University of Gottingen.

“I became interested in plant pathology during my BSc thesis research which examined the microflora associated with the different storage system of African yam bean seeds.”

Alice started working with Prof. Nick Talbot when she joined the University of Exeter to start her PhD project. When Nick decided to join The Sainsbury Laboratory as Executive Director in 2018 and move his lab here, Alice made the decision to come too.

“I’m so happy I made the move to The Sainsbury Laboratory and Norwich. The last three years here have been wonderful, and I’ve never looked back. I’m very excited to continue plant pathology research after my PhD.”