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When at first you do not succeed, you must try, try again

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Looking at the stubborn seeds that had refused to germinate, it was clear that we would be repeating the experiment for the third time. The 360 sad, little Medicago truncatula seeds stared up at me from within their plastic tubes and refused to offer any usable data. I had felt the same dismay a week prior when I walked into the growth chamber only to be greeted by contaminated seedlings from a previous attempt.

My multifaceted summer project revolves around investigating the plant hormone auxin in Medicago truncatula leaf and root development. This particular assay was initially designed to assess mutant and wild-type root development in response to various concentrations of auxin in the hopes of discovering a significant difference in auxin sensitivity between genotypes. However, the focus was shifted to shoot development after several replications yielded no significant difference in root morphology.

A few changes were in order to achieve this new goal. Square petri dishes were swapped out for tall tubes that would allow for better examination of the shoots and leaves. New seeds were acquired from storage and sterilized with a vigor that would send even the most resilient fungi packing. Fresh media was whipped up and sterilized. The concentrations of auxin applied to the media were adjusted to align with the methodology in publications about hormone-regulated leaf development. Replications of each treatment were subjected to two different temperatures, in accordance with previous studies.

I was on the verge of yelping with delight when I flung open the growth chamber door this morning to find the predicted differences among treatments. Even the thought of repeating it one final time for verification could not dampen my excitement as I reveled in the tiny triumph. Perhaps most valuably, this experiment demonstrated the dynamic nature of scientific exploration that requires the researcher to assume the role of detective. Indeed, the occupation is transformed into a rewarding adventure by the promise of each day holding challenges to be overcome.

Natalie Kirkwyland is a 2014 Lloyd Noble Scholar in Plant Science from Dryden, New York.