Student Nathan harvests success

Nathan Hughes
Nathan Hughes

A pioneering new technique using CT scanning technology commonly found in hospitals to examine wheat has been developed by a Dromore student.

The work of Aberystwyth University undergraduate Computer Science student Nathan Hughes will help scientists to develop new types of wheat which can thrive in a changing climate.

He has now won a Genetics Society Summer Studentship to develop the technique after recently completing a year’s industrial placement at Aberystwyth University’s National Plant Phenomics Centre.

The eight-week bursary is worth up to £2,500 and will see him spend the summer working at Aberystwyth’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Science (IBERS).

Traditionally, individual grains would be studied by hand in a pain-staking and lengthy process. The new technique enabled the team to analyse 200 wheat grain heads in an hour.

Nathan said: “I’m very pleased. Coming from a strong computer science background, I feel that I can bring a unique viewpoint to some of the current questions in plant-science.

“I have always been interested in combining computer science with other areas of research and this lead me to apply for a placement year working at the National Plant Phenomics Center that bridges plant and computer sciences.

“I now look forward to developing the work I have been doing over the past year and my understanding of plant genetics.”

Professor John Doonan, Director of the National Plant Phenomics Centre said: “We are delighted that Nathan has won such a prestigious bursary. His background in computer vision coupled with his interest in plant biology and innovative approach to the use of technology means he is able to see new opportunities and exploit them in exciting new ways.”

Nathan will present his work to a meeting hosted by the Genetics Society in Edinburgh at the end of August.

In January 2017, Nathan presented his work on the Raspberry Pi controlled plant irrigation and weighing system at FOSDEM 2017, which was held in Brussels.

In September 2017, he will return to study the final year of his Computer Science degree and hopes to go on to study for a PhD.

Further information about the Genetics Society Summer Studentship, which is funded by income from the journal Genes and Development, is available online: