Yannick Woudstra


When people ask me why I want to study succulent plants I always tell them the story of where I come from: I was born and raised in Friesland, a small area in the Netherlands with a unique culture and very wet landscape. Growing up in one of the wettest places on earth I was always fascinated by desert plants, wondering how do they survive with so little water. My passion for plants then came when I was a bachelor student in Chemistry at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. Learning about the fascinating chemical adaptations, such as CAM metabolism in cacti and other succulents, spiked my interest in the green kingdom. I then went on to do an MSc at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London to get proper botanical education where I focused on floral evolution in the Poppy family (Papaveraceae). My main interest in botany is to study plant evolution, I like looking at specific characters and comparing those between different closely related species. So far, I have been focusing on floral traits but I’m also very interested in how plants adapt to drought. For my PhD, I want to get experience in genomics and all the bioinformatics associated with this, to help me study plant evolution. My project about "Genomic barcoding of the succulent plant genus Aloe" (ESR9) combines these techniques with a long-standing desire to study desert plants. Aloe is a very diverse group (>500 species) of beautiful succulents from the African continent, Madagascar and the Arabian peninsula that are traded globally for their succulent leaf tissue. Unfortunately, wild harvesting poses a grave threat to this already endangered group of plants. I will design a genomic barcode to do what traditional identification methods cannot: identify a species from a small sample. With this barcode, we will identify which species are being targeted for international trade and hence where we need to focus our conservation efforts. Through my MSc at Kew I have gained considerable knowledge in botany and evolutionary biology and I hope to use this to help the other ESRs and Plant.ID partners who might be less experienced in this area. As a chemist, I can also contribute significant lab experience and have been trained in modern analytical techniques like flow cytometry. I’m looking forward to learning everything the other ESRs and partners have to offer about genomics and bioinformatics, which will inevitably result in very fruitful collaborations.