Taproot S5E3: Pre-Stressed Conditions: Epigenetics and Life as a Black Academic

In this episode, we talk with Dr. Thelma Madzima, Assistant Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Washington, Bothell. A native of Zimbabwe, she received her Ph.D. in Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Florida and went on to complete a postdoc with Karen McGinnis in the Department of Biological Science at Florida State University. Her research currently focuses on epigenetic regulation of gene expression in plants using maize (Zea mays) as a model organism. 

We talk with Thelma about her recent publication in G3 “Epigenetic Regulation of ABA-Induced Transcriptional Responses in Maize”, complete citation. She tells us about characterizing a specific epigenetic pathway in maize and how this work identified transposons that induce specific DNA methylations. Perhaps not unexpectedly, she and her authors found that plants that were “pre-stressed” by the loss of epigenetic silencing were also more likely to 

Thelma talks about living in the US epicenter of the pandemic and how she is coping with the new “normal” as a Professor at a primarily undergraduate institute. She discusses the setbacks that the pandemic has created for tenure track professors, including those that are specific to PUIs. Additionally, as an immigrant from Zimbabwe, she knows firsthand the hardships an immigrant student faces and what recent changes have meant to international students. As one of the few Black professors working in academic plant molecular biology in the US, she discusses the changes that need to come about in order to encourage the inclusion of black scientists in the scientific community.

How to listen, download and subscribe to The Taproot podcast

Read Episode Transcript



Vendramin S, Huang J, Crisp PA, Madzima TF, McGinnis KM (2020) Epigenetic Regulation of ABA-Induced Transcriptional Responses in Maize. G3: Genes|Genomes|Genetics 10: 1727-1743

Twitter Handles 

Thelma’s Twitter @thelma_madzima

Liz Haswell Twitter @ehaswell

Ivan Baxter Twitter @baxtertwi

Taproot Podcast Twitter @taprootpodcast


The Taproot is the podcast that digs beneath the surface to understand how scientific publications in plant biology are created. In each episode, co-hosts Liz Haswell and Ivan Baxter take a paper from the literature and talk about the story behind the science with one of its authors.

Subscribe to The Taproot podcast on iTunes , Stitcher, or Spotify.

Questions, feedback, suggestions?  Contact us at taproot@plantae.org.


0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *