Getting to know us: Guy from Ensembl Plants

Today we are meeting Guy, who works in the Plants team of Ensembl Genomes. He talks about how he came to Ensembl, his interests and experiences so far.

What is your job in Ensembl? 

I work in the Ensembl Plants team, which is like regular Ensembl only for (you guessed it) plants.

A lot of what we focus on are important crop species like wheat, maize and rice, but we also have plant model organisms such as Arabidopsis and Brachypodium. I am funded by a Designing Future Wheat grant so most of my work is on that.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I love that I do so many different things.

One day I am working on coding a script to update the databases, the next day I am deep in production work before our data release, and the week after I am giving a talk in a plants workshop that I helped to organise. It is also a really interesting time for plant genomics, and we are getting better assemblies for species all the time, so a good time to be in Ensembl Plants.

What are you currently working on?

Most of my work in the past two years has involved integrating new versions of the reference wheat assembly into Ensembl.

This was not always easy because the wheat genome is nearly 17 GB (5 times the size of the human genome!) with over 80% repeated regions which makes everything more complicated.

It finally looks like there is a very good reference assembly but now there is the great challenge of adding the genomes of 16 different wheat cultivars that can be compared to the reference. They will be a great asset to wheat researchers and breeders in the upcoming years.

With food security likely to be a very important issue in the future, these are indeed exciting and interesting times for wheat genomics.

What is your typical day?

If I’m working at the EBI, mostly sitting at the computer and coding, or doing production tasks. If I’m in a workshop/conference then mainly preparing and giving my talk and trying to convince others how important open access data is.

How did you end up here?

When my partner saw the end of her PhD in sight, we decided it would be a good time to go on an adventure. We are originally from Israel, and started searching for interesting options around the world. I first tried Amsterdam and we were very close to moving to Singapore but decided against it, and finally found ourselves in the UK. But it should be said that the EBI was a place I had my eye on for a while so I am very happy it worked out!

What surprised you most about Ensembl when you started working here?

How quiet everything is! In Israel every one is talking, chatting and shouting (in a good way). And here everyone is much quieter at work. After a while you get used to the quiet, I thing it will be difficult for me to work in a loud place again :).

What is the coolest tool or data type in Ensembl that you think everybody should know about?

Just a bit biased here but I will have to go with wheat. It’s a fascinating species with a huge genome, and we have only recently begun to understand how it looks.

There was a great “race” between a number of organisations to get the best assembly out, and in the past 3 years there have been no less than 3 new wheat assemblies! Once we get all this genomic information to the breeders, there are many interesting things that can be done to uncover hidden variation, so the future looks very exciting.