Key people: Johan Bucher

Johan Bucher provides cameras to observe the growth process of plants.
Text: Stijn Schreven | Photo: Guy Ackermans

They are indispensable on the campus: the cleaners, caretakers, caterers, gardeners, receptionists – the list is long. Resource seeks out these key people. This time, meet Johan Bucher (38), molecular analyst at Plant Breeding.

‘As a child, I used to help my father with odd jobs. He teaches mechanical engineering at a vocational training college. If my father didn’t know how to solve something, he would say, ‘Come, we’ll go and see so-and-so because they are good at this and they’ll teach us.’ I’ve never forgotten that tip. I see my mother as an artist. She likes painting and sculpting – anything you do with your hands. If you combine those two people, there’s a chance you’ll get offspring with both qualities.

‘I’ve been working in Guusje Bonnema’s group for 15 years now. It started with a project for which we designed a camera setup.

At my first presentation my parents were in the front row

Three years later that PhD student was done, and the camera was going unused. Then I thought, “Hey, I’ve got an idea. I like Discovery Channel and time-lapse film sequences. I’ve got a camera and two light boxes. I’ll throw a few seeds onto some seed-starting soil and see what happens.” When I showed my boss, she was blown away.

‘What I realized is that plants don’t listen to us. They turn away from the lens. In my father’s classroom, which I often visited, there were welding robots. So I got the idea of making a welding robot with cameras on it and making it circle around the plant. I was given a budget and I worked on it at home, for a whole year. I managed it in the end, with help from many other people.

‘BABETTE, VERA, MOLI and LINDA. Those are the names of The Golden Girls: cameras with which we observe the growth process of plants for phenotyping. The Golden Girls was a TV series with a moral: you get further if you collaborate. I named LINDA after my mother. And there isn’t a piece of equipment like BABETTE anywhere else. With that one we can observe specific genes in the plant in 4D.

‘At the first presentation I gave for the department, my parents were in the front row. My father was sitting next to Professor Richard Visser and told him, “That’s my son”. And Richard said proudly, “That’s my colleague.”’

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