Philomin Juliana

Philomin Juliana
WIT Award Year: 2015
Organization: Cornell University
Country: United States

Wheat breeding and genetics is my passion! My love for this fascinating science effloresced during my Masters research at Cornell University that involved mapping genes for traits associated with durable rust resistance. The incredibly magnificent wheat genome; the intriguing mechanism of durable rust resistance; the complex interactions between the rust resistance genes and the pathogens enthralled me and transformed my interest in research into a passion. While, wheat genomics is quite complicated and intimidating, its such a fascination for an enthusiastic geneticist who can combat the complexity with passionate, persevering audacity to explore the unexplored! Any improvement in wheat can benefit millions of people around the world and that drives me as a breeder to look for novel strategies to address the challenges in wheat breeding. I am currently pursuing my Ph.D. in plant breeding and genetics at Cornell University, under the guidance of Dr. Mark Sorrells. My research involves implementing association mapping and genomic prediction in CIMMYT’s international bread wheat screening nursery (IBWSN) entries, for effective evaluation and exploitation of disease resistance genes. As the greatest purpose of life is to spend it for something that outlasts it, I want my existence on this planet to etch a permanent mark in the history of wheat breeding and genetics.

A perfect blend of my major in plant breeding and minor in international agriculture at grad school fueled my commitment to use wheat breeding as a tool to make a difference in the lives of the impoverished farmers in the developing nations. Realizing the potential threat of Ug99 and other virulent pathogens to the wheat farmers around the word, I seek to be an innovative wheat breeder, quick to adopt new technologies and co-evolve with challenges just like the rust pathogen. The stories of how several farmers poison themselves with the same pesticides/fungicides that fail to save their crops, awakened me to the mammoth task ahead - to empower the farming community and rejuvenate their lives by delivering them rust-resistant seeds of hope fortified with the latest genomic breeding technologies. I also have a vision to start wheat rust awareness campaigns for farmers in developing nations, motivating them to join hands in combating the rust pathogen.

One of the most important traits that I think a plant breeder should have is to work selflessly and tirelessly for crop improvement - not be attracted by lucrative salaries but be motivated by the true passion to work for the welfare and food security of the poorest of the world’s poor. Plant breeding does have a human face! Hailing from India, a nation that harbors the world’s highest number of hungry and undernourished children, I am deeply obligated to play my role in nurturing the food bowl of my nation. The agonizing conditions of the hungry and malnourished children around me deeply touched me and instilled in me the desire to strive ceaselessly for those who starve. These children need a hope for their lives, a light out of their darkness and a sacrificial loving heart that pours itself out to feed them. How can I enjoy a good meal when people around me are suffering and dying from hunger? I desire to dedicate my whole life for wheat improvement and be like one of those wheat grains that fall down to the earth to bear much fruit so that the world will have enough bread to eat. I dream of an India free from hunger and I will commit every single endeavor of my research to achieve this.

My other greatest aspiration is to empower women in agriculture and help to improve their productivity and income. As pivotal players in agriculture and as loving mothers who toil sacrificially to feed the family, women have a paramount role in ensuring food security. The FAO, State of Food and Agriculture report (2010-11) states that, “If women in rural areas had the same access to resources as men, agricultural production could be increased and the number of hungry people reduced by 100-150 million”. This indeed propels me to revolutionize the lives of women in the developing countries who are still oppressed. My mission is to educate and train women on agricultural technologies; equip them with courage to face the challenges in agriculture and motivate them to become successful entrepreneurs. I long to see that glorious day when women bloom in agriculture and accomplish great things. As Mahatma Gandhi righty said, “Be the change you want to see in the world”, I am determined to venture out with fortitude and make a difference in the world!