19 December 2020, UK: As a world-leading research centre, each year the James Hutton Institute receives numerous applications from international students interested in coming to our sites to acquire valuable scientific and practical experience on crop, water, environmental and social science. But Johanna Maria Würtz’s case is truly remarkable: the 22-year old undergraduate student at Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg in Germany completed a 1000-mile hike alongside her faithful Shetland pony Hechizo to join us in Dundee for a six-month Erasmus placement to undertake barley science.
Starting from Segovia, Johanna and Hechizo’s travels took them across Northern Spain to France’s Atlantic coast and after a ride through France and over the channel by ferry they started hiking again in East Sussex. They made their way up to Scotland, camping and sleeping at any shelter they could find and meeting farmers and countless supporters along the way – a journey which arose keen interest on social media and lately in the mainstream press.
Johanna’s work at the Institute will see her focus on the genetic control of flowering time in barley, in the context of current research on barley breeding tools for intensive and sustainable agriculture under climate change scenarios.
The ERA-NET funded BARISTA research project, to which Johanna’s work will contribute, features Professor Robbie Waugh (James Hutton Institute and University of Dundee) and Prof Dr Klaus Pillen (Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg), who recommended the 22-year old for her Erasmus placement in Dundee.
She will be supervised by Dr Luke Ramsay (Cell and Molecular Sciences) and will work with the wider barley group, which includes Dr Joanne Russell and colleagues from the Institute and the University of Dundee’s Division of Plant Sciences.
Johanna said: “I had been working at the Lusitano stud farm Yeguada La Perla in Segovia this spring and wanted to get to Dundee until the end of September to conduct the research for my dissertation on barley breeding.
“I have hiked with Hechizo before and thought this walk to Scotland would not only be the cheapest and most sustainable way of traveling with my horse, but also an amazing lifetime experience. I absolutely love the freedom of it and am getting an overview of farming practices in different areas and the best language practice by the way. I really enjoy walking through the fields, just the two of us, most days not knowing where we’d end up in the evening. That’s truly living the moment.”
Congratulating Johanna on her arrival, Professor Colin Campbell, the Institute’s Chief Executive, commented: “It is quite a remarkable feat and Johanna and Hechizo deserve our warmest welcome, respect and regard for their effort and determination. We are delighted to host Johanna during her placement and give Hechizo a much-deserved rest.”
The James Hutton Institute’s Dundee campus is the site of the International Barley Hub, an initiative which seeks to create a unique, integrated, open platform for the translation of barley research into economic, social, environmental and commercial impacts for the breeding, farming, malting, brewing, feed, food, health and related industries. The project is supported through the Tay Cities Deal.