About 35 years ago, having cracked how I could make a lot of daffodil shoots in test tubes (that’s another story!), I was faced with a great hurdle that for the life of me I had no idea how to tackle. How could I turn these shoot clumps into little bulbs for planting in the field? After all, my PhD’s goal was to produce a complete protocol from multiplying massive number of daffodils/narcissus shoot clumps in test-tubes and getting these growing ‘normally’ in the field. Based on literature reviews, I knew that plating shoot clumps had been successfully done by other researchers. But this had two major disadvantages:
- There would be a danger of these shoot clumps not acclimatizing well when planted out in the glass house. 25 – 30% casualties would be “normal”.
- These shoot clumps were behaving like young narcissus seedlings and would need up to five years to grow to flowering stage.
My late supervisor, Dr. Barbara M.R. Harvey suggested I should look at other plant models in tissue culture for inspirations. The light-bulb moment came when I had a chat with Dr. Nikki Evans on how she got her potato shoots in test-tubes to form small tubers. Evans used high sugar content in her culture medium and I went along this line. A few months later, I was elated to see little bulbs (which I termed ‘bulbils”) formed in my test-tubes given high dose of sucrose in their culture media. That was the turning point of my PhD and 6 months later I submitted my thesis…and the rest as they say “was history”!
For this part of my work I am indebted to Dr. Evans for her generosity in sharing her ideas.
I owed it to my two supervisors, Dr. Barbara Harvey and Dr. Christopher Selby for putting their feet down shortly after I had completed the “bulbils” experiment by stopping me from doing any more work in the lab (they literally banished me from my lab!) and by pushing me to write my doctorate thesis which I completed about 6 months later! This was the most important turning point! My research project goals were attained, but my doctoral studies goal was still not reached. I had to write, submit and defend my thesis (successfully) to earn my PhD!
A few months after that (in December 1990), I was conferred the degree of Doctor of Philosophy by my alma mater, the Queen’s University of Belfast. Shortly after, I left Belfast to take up a post-doctoral research officer post at the National University of Singapore.
It was around late 1991 that I received the great news from Dr. Harvey, she wrote in an email: “Chow, some of the “bulbils” that you had planted out in mid 1990 are flowering!”
This was exciting news indeed because:
- it proofed that my bulbils, after going through the “stressful” process of my protocol were not any different from those multiplied conventionally;
- of more significance is the fact that this meant my protocol had cut the “shoot clumps/seedlings to flowering bulb stage”by at least 3 – 4 years!
I wished I had the chance and resources to carry on with this work to collect more data on this observation but disappointingly this was not the case.
In research work, you do need to have a keen eye to spot trends & changes but what you need most is the guidance of experienced researchers. I was lucky to have both! The keen eye helped me to spot the resemblance between the potato tuberization process and the bulb formation of narcissus/daffodils. The guidance of my supervisors ensured that I scaled the last but most crucial turning point of my PhD journey. They put a stop to my laboratory work and made sure that I stuck to the PhD research schedule (and more importantly, my scholarship tenure) to compose and submit my PhD thesis way before the last of my scholarship cheques was issued!
If you are interested, a brief introduction to a paper published by my supervisors and I have just been written & published in Kudos by me.