Cellular and developmental biologist Caroline Dean studies the genetic and epigenetic mechanisms by which external temperature regulates the timing of plant reproduction, a topic that’s increasingly relevant as global climate change affects crop production. Her work has led to important insights into chromatin regulation and evolutionary adaptation in a variety of species. This special WiSE Wednesday, we look back at her last week’s visit as our second McClintock lecturer of 2018.
Dr. Dean was born and raised in the UK, where she received biology degrees from the University of York. After graduating, she spent some time in industry, working on genetic engineering at a biotech company in California before returning to academia (and the UK) and taking a position at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, where she is currently a Professor and Project Leader. She has received numerous honors including election to national academies in the UK, US, and Germany. Last year, she was named a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
It was not only her scientific contributions that led us to choose Dr. Dean as a McClintock lecturer, however. Through the McClintock lecture series, we highlight prominent women scientists who have performed pioneering research AND advocated for women in science, and Dean definitely fit the bill! Dr. Dean has been a great advocate for the advancement of women in science, with a strong history of providing inspiration and career guidance to girls and young women. For this work, she received the FEBS|EMBO Women in Science Award in 2014 and was recently named a 2018 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science laureate.
It was rather fitting that a scientist working on epigenetics in plants gave a speech in a series created in honor of Barbara McClintock, who discovered “jumping genes” in corn. In fact, the two had actually met each other – Dean told a story of how, during one of her talks, McClintock moved her chair closer and closer to the podium until she was practically sitting next to Dean.
While at CSHL, Dean met and dined with WiSE members and gave a great labwide seminar on "Epigenetic switching and antisense transcription." So, what advice did Dean have to give to us? When it comes to stepping outside of your comfort zone, trying an experiment that’s never been done before, “Be brave” and “Just go for it.” This advice certainly worked for her! She told a story of how Mark Ptashne was skeptical about her data (and the whole premise of epigenetics in general) – undaunted, Dean performed an experiment that would solidify her theory and presented her conclusive results later that same year at a meeting Ptashne attended.
It was an honor to host Dame Dean and we hope her words and story can help motivate you as you forge your own unique paths!