Blog post

Weblog Caitlyn Vries

Published on
October 9, 2014

In her weblog Caitlyn Vries master student Plant Sciences, writes about her experiences


Hi all! I am Caitlyn Vries, 22 years old, Dutch from origin and currently first year Master Plant Sciences student at Wageningen University. The master Plant Sciences is divided in five specializations: Plant Breeding and Genetic Resources, Plant Pathology and Entomology, Crop science, Greenhouse Horticulture and Natural Resource Management. I have chosen the specialization Pathology and Entomology.

I’ve got my Bachelor degree Applied Biology in June 2014 at HAS Hogeschool in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. During my time at the HAS I did two internships. One of them was at the University of Utrecht at the department of plant-eco physiology. I have helped research which gene families are responsible for the elongation response in Rumex palustris (marsh dock) during flooding. During this internship I did a lot of flooding and plant hormone experiences. I’ve investigated the regulation of several genes during the flooding with the Q-PCR. My second internship was something complete different from the first one. I did coral research for about four months in Mexico. I’ve researched the change in the coral macro-algae ratio from 2008 till 2013 and looked if there was a trend in this process. The coral research involved a lot of fieldwork in which we collected data snorkeling and diving. Unfortunually I broke my foot during mine internship and went back home. Lucky I already collected the data so I wrote the rest of my report in the Netherlands.

I chose at the HAS plant as graduation subject. My graduation assignment was ordered by Kieft Seed. They wanted an alternative environment friendly seed disinfection method which involved no chemicals and constituted in 100% pathogen free seed.

I have learned a lot during my bachelor but the most important thing I have discovered is my passion for plants and the way they react to environmental conditions. I decided to do a Master Plant Sciences because the information during my bachelor was simply not enough to satisfy my passion for plants and my curious mind. During my bachelor I already visited Wageningen University for excursions and lectures. The reason I chose Wageningen University is that I really like the applied way they think about subjects and the positive vibe around the campus. Plants Sciences suites my interests really well and the amount of freedom you have in course choice during the master program makes it possible to extend your knowledge and still get specialized in one subject.

May 2015

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The 4th of May is dead commemoration day in the Netherlands. All the dead fallen in the second world war are commemorated on this day by a two minute silence at eight o’clock and by ceremonies where flower wreaths are placed at second world war monuments through the country. There was a big commemorated ceremony at the military cemetery on the Grebbenberg in Rhenen to pay respect to the fallen soldiers as well as to remember the horror of war. The 5th of May is liberation day, the day the Dutch celebrate the liberation of the Netherlands from the German occupation in 1945 as well as the freedom we have in general. This celebration happens trough out the country with free festivals of which Wageningen has one of the biggest. This is because the capitulation of the Germans is signed in hotel de Wereld. So you can imagine that Wageningen was turned upside down to house one of the biggest liberation festivals of the Netherlands which I off course joined! I had a great day with lots of live music, dancing people and beers.

Unfortunately the 5th of May was in the exam week, but nevertheless I still managed to pass both of my exams! After my exams I visited a friend who lives in Antwerpen. We went sight-seeing in this beautiful city and visited a chocolate bar.

Period six is started and halfway through already. The time is flying and the summer holiday is almost knocking on the door. This period I follow plant-microbe interactions and plant plasticity and adaptation. Both these courses are whole day course, so the first four weeks I followed plant-microbe interactions and the last four weeks plant plasticity and adaptation. Plant-microbe interactions is a continuation of the MABI (Moleculair aspects of bio-interactions) course but is only about fungi and oomycetes. I really like this course because it involves disease progression, plant defense and infection strategies of the pathogens. I even like it so much that I want to do my thesis in one of these subjects. The course includes a practical as well in which we do several things such as growth assays to examine the disease causing protein of a certain fungi strain. In the picture you can see two different kind of Phytophthora (potato late blight causing agent) mating types which have made sexual spores.

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April 2015

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I promise to tell about Regulation of plant development and Bioresources. Regulation of plant development is about all the factors behind the development of a plant at a molecular cell and gene level for example how the flower development is regulated. This course is pretty interesting because I didn’t had much background on the molecular development of plants and the knowledge I gain in this course could be very useful in later research.

Bioresources is like dilemma’s in food safety and security a new course which is given for the first time. In the course the recent developments in agronomy of biomass production, methods for classical and marker-assisted plant breeding and metabolic engineering of biosynthetic pathways are discussed. The main focus of this course is to make optimum use of all the plants products in a sustainable way.  We learned how to alternated plants to produce medicine, natural rubber and even bio-plastics. I included a photo of Miscanthus which is a potential biofuel crop, and as you can see produces a lot of biomass.

I went to a debate about the need of gen technology in the agriculture which interestingly was between Monsanto and Greenpeace. This was really special because Monsanto avoids debates most of the time so I was really excited and curious to see the debate. In the end I was a bit disappointed because the need of gen technology in agriculture wasn’t really discussed but the debate was more about the use of genetically modified crops. It was clearly that allot of people in the public were strongly against anything what had to do with Monsanto and did not really pay attention to any of the arguments. Anyway the outcome of the debate stated that gen technology as well as biological agriculture should go hand in hand to create sustainable varieties which require as les resources and energy as possible.

I visited Bedrocan with Semper Florens. Bedrocan produces legally medicinal cannabis. This was very interesting, not because cannabis is a pleasure drug, but because cannabis has not been cultivated professional so long. That means a lot of research has to be done and because the medicinal cannabis industry is growing as well a lot of job opportunities! Medicinal cannabis is not been cultivated for quantity or quality but for continuity of the cannabis compounts. This means that the cannabis cultivation need to be standardized in order to get always the same end product with the same amounts of components like THC. You can see the large cannabis plants in a climate chamber on the picture I included.  

Period 5 has almost ended and I am starting to study for my coming exams again, how they went you will hear next time.

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March 2015

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Hi all! March was a very busy but as well a very fun month for me. The first weekend of March I was on a miniholiday with my Sorority from Den Bosch. We went to a manage in the Mortel, a little village in Brabant, and learned how to arch shoot. Sunday morning we ended the weekend with horse ride through the beautiful area of the Mortel in the sun. I really had a fantastic weekend. My corridor mate has had his Birthday on the 16th of March, as gift we took him to eat sushi and had a lovely time with good food. Off course my corridor mate trough out a big birthday party at his parents place in Zuid-Holland. This was, again, a small reunion where I have spoke a lot of people I graduated with from the HAS. Most of those are already working in the agricultural sector and I found it really interesting to hear what they are into now. Moreover the fun, I went to Amsterdam with my mother and sister to shop. Again, it was a really good day besides of the rain. I shopped new spring clothes and enjoyed the beautiful city of Amsterdam. But there is more! I also had a lovely diner with a mixed group of people from the masters Plant Sciences and Plant Biotechnology who have joined classes sometimes. Everyone made a dish and again it was a very good evening where I had the opportunity to learn some new people.

But like you all know, I am not in Wageningen just for the fun but as well to study! Moreover, The Dilemma’s in Food safety and security course has been completed with an final exam and debate in which we had to defend our whitepaper against another group. We had to critically read a whitepaper from another group and start a debate about this as well.  After the debate we discussed the tips and tops of the course with the coordinators who had brought cake and drinks. I really liked the coursed and learned to look at the food security and safety dilemmas from different perspectives. This period I am following regulation of plant development and bioresources but more over this next time.


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Februari 2015

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The month February means carnaval in the south of the Netherlands. And as I told, I have lived in Den Bosch for four years so I went south for the carnaval. But this time it was not to party dressed up as a tiger or Indian but to work and provide all the thirsty party people with liquor (see the picture for my working spot during carnaval). In this way I provided my exhausted finances with some fresh money.

In this month spring is born again. Just look outside and you can see the snowdrops and crocuses popping up out of the grass everywhere. You can even smell it! Nature really feels alive again and during this great event I passed my re-exams! As well finished my management skills training and I am still working in the host-parasite interaction self-study course. I am writing my review about the molecular interaction between plant-parasitic plants and their hosts, in particular the RNA trafficking between those. And guys I am not going to lie to you, it is a struggle for me. The whole review is built up around an certain question and I am still struggle  to figure out what I want to tell precisely.

As well I am following a course which is given for the first time: Dilemmas in food safety and security. This course focuses on the current dilemmas in global food safety and security with a particular emphasis on the control of plant diseases, pests and weeds. The demand for food is rising due to the growing world population. To meet rising food demand agriculture has to be intensified which lead to higher yields per square kilometer. The intensified agriculture is accompanied with all kind of safety dilemmas such as pesticide use and the use of genetically modified crops. In this course those dilemmas are discussed and viewed from all sides. So far a very interesting course!

I decided to join a the excursion commission of the student association of Plant Sciences to be involved with the student association and getting to know some new people. The excursion commission arrange every period an excursion to a company in our future working such as a seed breeding company. This period the excursion goes to the new environment friendly building of NIOO-Knaw in Wageningen.


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Januari 2015

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Hello! Happy new year to all of you. January was filled with new year drinks and best wishes. The new year also started with a new period, it is period three already. This period I am following the self study course host-parasite interaction and a Modular skill training course. Like it said host-parasite interaction is a self study course and you can plan the course after the introduction lecture just as you want. I have to write a review of research papers about the (tadadamm) host-parasite interactions. You can choose your own topic as long it is a relevant topic and there have to be at least 15 recently published research papers about. I choose the topic molecular parasitic-plant host plant bio-interaction. But because I am also following a modular skill training course and the two re-exams I have in February, I have chosen to finish the host-parasite course in period four.

It is obligated for me to follow two modular skill trainings which are trainings to expand your competences and help you to function properly in a job at MSc. level. I choose to expand my management competence and follow the course management skill training. In the course I didn’t only learn how to handle several kind of management situations but I also got a good reflection on myself and the type of manager I am. I have to write a paper about the assignments I made as well as my view on management.

I went for three days to Amsterdam to visit a friend which I’ve known since elementary school. We went to Waterloo plein for some second handed shopping and she showed me some tourist high lights. We had not seen each other for a time so we had a lot to talk about. You can imagine we didn’t sleep much but I had a great time!

My sorority from Den Bosch had arranged a daytrip for all our members including their mothers. We went to a camel dairy in Berlicum and had a lovely day with cake, camel drool and a lovely pizza dinner at the end. If was good to see all my friends again and also funny to see their mothers. Some people really look a lot like their mother.  As well it was very interesting to see the difference between a cow dairy and a camel dairy.

Next time I will tell you more about my self-study!


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December 2014

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December was an abnormal month with only a few lectures and a lot of free days. So you can imagine that I didn’t focus at school in December but at having fun with friends and family. Before the start of the holidays I still had to study hard for my two exams and I am happy to tell you I passed both.

In the first week of December I was really focused at finishing both of my projects and already preparing for the exams. But I wouldn’t be a true Dutch if I didn’t find time to celebrate Sinterklaas. I celebrate Sinterklaas the traditional way with my corridor mates. We all made a dish and had a lovely diner together with some good red wine. Everyone had bought three gifts and after the diner we played a dice game for those. In the end of the game everyone was happy with the gifts and we all had a nice evening. I got nice fluffy socks, thank you Sinterklaas!

In the second week of December I went back to my hermit existence and studied nonstop. Okaaayy I tried to study nonstop but off course after five whole learning days my concentration went to zero. Lucky I had my last exam on Tuesday morning and after finishing this exam I could do whatever I wanted to. With the smell of freedom in my nose I pushed myself trough the learning material and like I told you above, with good results.

After my last exam I went directly to Den Bosch to celebrate the freedom of the holidays and also to go to the Christmas gala from my old student society. I really enjoyed the gala which felt like a reunion because I spoke a lot of people I graduated with and which I hadn’t seen for a while. The day after the gala I went to housewarming of a friend of mine and as well a Christmas party from a big student society in Wageningen.

I’ve traveled a lot during the holidays between Noord-Holland where my parents live, Wageningen where my clothes live and Den Bosch where most of my friends live. I spend my Christmas with my family playing dice games (twice) and off course a lot of nice food so I am really spoiled with gifts this December. The holidays are almost over now and I wish you all a happy and healthy 2015!

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November 2014

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November just flew by! Like I told you last time I have two projects going on right now. For Plant biotechnology I am doing a literature study with three other students. The subject is Transcriptor activator like effectors (TALE) which is a recently developed genome editing tool which makes genetic modification in plants easier and more precise and as well can offer the possibility to modify DNA without creating a genetic modified organism, but of course this depends on the way a genetic modified organism is defined.  And that is an ethical discussion that I’m not going to bother you with. The ethical site of plant biotechnology is also highly discussed in the Plant Biotechnology course.

For the project of my afternoon course (molecular aspects of bio-interactions) I am working with bacteria strains which are isolated from the inside of tomato plants. We are trying to find bacteria strains which have anti-microbial effects against other micro-organism. After a few long days at the laboratory I am happy to tell you that we already found some interesting strains! At the photo you can see me in the lab with my project partner Qiuyuan.

But November wasn’t all about the study! I had diner and game night with some people from my bachelor school (the HAS) which was very nice! My parents, sister and her boyfriend went over for the first time to see my new apartment. As well to go to the zoo (Ouwehands Dierenpark) which is literally a ten minute bus drive from my house. In the zoo there was a baby giraf! It was so cute that I wanted to share it with you! (see the photo) After the zoo we went back to my place where I cooked them a nice dinner together with my roommate. They left after dinner fulfilled with joy, happiness and delicious food. With December coming up I did some Sinterklaas and Christmas shopping in Arnhem. I never went to Arnhem before and didn’t had high expectations of the city but Arnhem really surprised me with its beautiful streets and its welcoming atmosphere.

I cannot believe that period two is almost over and it is already time for the exams. Lucky we have direct after the exams the holidays in which I can finally totally relax and regain some breath for the coming periods. So Merry Christmas and enjoy the holidays!

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October 2014

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The autumn finally really started past month, which are the cold foreign students from the warmer parts of the world are a bit sad about. Wageningen is turned into a beautiful color pallet with leaves falling everywhere. With the leaves falling also the exams where dropped down on our exam tables. I locked myself up for a week in my room and lived like a hermit to study my exams. I was really nervous for all of them and still don’t have all the marks back but I am happy to tell you that I past at least two of the three exams (yeeh!).

After hours of root and nematode counting I finished my nematode project with a good mark. The outcome of our project was a little vague because the nematodes did not get stained in their J2 life phase and were therefore hard to count. In a later infection stage the nematodes where also hard to count because the reaction of the plant to the infection. You can look at the pictures below to see some nematode infected roots. Therefore there were no significant differences but overall we could say that our mutant plant had less nematodes and a slower infection which indicates that the gene which our mutant was a knock out off, could be involved in the infection process of the nematodes.

After the exams period two started with (drum roll) new courses! My last exam was on Friday and it was kind of hard for me to direct continue with study and the next courses without any pause. But my two new courses are really nice. I decide to follow Molecular aspects of bio-interaction (MABI) and Plant Biotechnology. In Plant Biotechnology I upgrade my previous knowledge about genetic tools and their application to modify gene expression and in MABI I learn about the molecular interactions between plants, pathogens, micro-organism and pest. After the first week of lectures I can tell that I really like both this courses. In MABI we learn a lot about plant defense and plant resistance which I find really interesting.

Both of my new courses have projects which I will write about next time and also some of my social activities because of the exams I didn’t had much of them past month.

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September 2014

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This month I started at University! I also moved from Den Bosch to Wageningen so it was a busy month full of changes for me. The first three weeks I had the morning course ‘Principals of plant breeding’. I did not looked forward to this course because in previous experience I didn’t like plant breeding that much but lucky it turned out to be pretty interesting. In the afternoon I follow ‘Ecological aspects of bio-interaction’. Which has really nice lectures in it but I am not that much into ecology so some lectures were a bit boring for me.

For my afternoon course I am doing a mini-project with nematodes. There are differences in the reaction of ecotypes from Arabidopsis thaliana to root knot nematodes. We are looking at the invasion from the root knot nematodes on a mutant which had an knockout for the gene from an ecotype which seems resistant to root knot nematodes in comparison with the non mutant. So we have a lot of nematode counting to do!

I was really excited for my first week and also a little bit nervous because I wondered if the level of the master wasn’t too high for me. But after one month I can say that my bachelor connects very nicely with this master. The big deferens is that the rate is much higher and the learning matter is much bigger. Still I am a bit nervous for the upcoming exams.

During the first week this month there was a beach club at the campus. Here you could lounge with friends or join all kind of activities such as beach volleyball.  The last day of the beach club they had a major closing party which you could join with a wur-card. I went to party and the afterparty at a student society with some friends and had a really good time then. Next day in college wasn’t that much fun though ;). Next blog I will write about my sport experience in Wageningen, the outcome of my mini-project and last but not least how my first exams on the University went.

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