News - November 21, 2019

Belly dancing for science (video)

Tessa Louwerens

Katharina Hanika, a PhD candidate at the Laboratory of Plant Breeding, uses belly dancing to explain how she works on improving the resistance of tomato plants against a fungus. With this videoclip, she hopes to win the “Dance Your PhD” contest organised by Science.

The belly-dance group. Picture courtesy of Katharina Hanika.

This contest challenges scientists to explain their research to a broader audience. Not using PowerPoint slides or scientific terminology, but through dance. Hanika had been belly dancing since she was 13 years old and has been a teacher for six years. Together with her belly dance group from the International Student Organisation of Wageningen (ISOW) she put together a choreography. ‘My students don’t study plant sciences, so I knew that if I could explain my research to them in a way they understood, other people would also be able to get it.’

My boyfriend Edgar is dancing as the fungus
Katharina Hanika, PhD candidate at the Laboratory of Plant Breeding

Hanika’s research focuses on improving the resistance of tomato plants against a fungus called Verticillium dahliae, which causes high annual losses in many crops. She is working on identifying the genes that make the tomato plant susceptible to the fungus, so that she can alter these “S genes” using genome editing (CRISPR-Cas9). This could be used to breed resistant plants, not by adding resistance genes, which is a more common approach, but by altering these susceptibility genes.

‘The hardest part was that my research takes place on the cellular level of the plants’, says Hanika. ‘So I had to think of a way to express in dance when we were zooming in on the molecular level and when we were looking at the plant as a whole.’

The production did not take that long. ‘We made the costumes together over the weekend, and we shot the clip on a Saturday on campus. We also had help from three boyfriends: two of them did the filming and editing, and my boyfriend Edgar is dancing as the fungus.’

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The winner of the contest will take home one thousand dollars and eternal fame. Hanika: ‘If we win, I plan to use the money for new costumes for our belly dancing group, since ISOW is a non-profit organisation.’

If you see this and think ‘I can do this!’, you can still submit your video until 21 January 2020. More information can be found via this link.