Caixia Lan, from China, and currently working at CIMMYT, was a WIT winner in 2011. Since then, she has been focusing on identifying adult plant resistance (APR) gene to leaf rust, stripe rust, and stem rust in bread and durum wheats, and breeding durable rust resistant wheat cultivars.
Who or what inspired you to work in wheat science and research and why?
I became interested in agriculture during high school because of my family. In Inner Mongolia, China, my hometown, my parents grew around 2 hectares, including maize, potato, and wheat. However, the crop yield was very low because of drought and disease between 1995 and 2005. The wheat’s yield was only 1-2 ton/hectare. People in my hometown lived in poor conditions because of low incomes; as a result many children could not attend school. I learned the crop yield could improve through genetic manipulation and breeding during my undergraduate period, which inspired me to focus on wheat science and research.
What effect did the WIT Early Career Award have on your professional development?
The greatest experience to come of winning the WIT Award was the two-week training session in Kenya. Originally, I was supposed to join a three-week training in CIMMYT, Mexico in March 2011, but the WIT Award offered me a two-week training in Kenya instead, because I started to work in CIMMYT in February 2011. I participated in several lectures and field evaluations of stem rust (Ug99). I saw susceptible wheat lines without any seeds in the spikes, which I would have never believed if I hadn’t see it myself. I’ve begun to explain the importance of stem rust in countries where stem rust has not yet spread.
What are you currently working on, and how does it relate to wheat production and/or food security in your country?
I am working on identifying and mapping adult plant resistance (APR) gene to leaf, stripe, and stem rust in bread and durum wheats and transferring them into elite wheat lines with molecular markers. In Mexico, wheat harvested area was ranged from 550,000 to 828,000 ha with an average yield of 5.2t/ha a over the last 10 years, but leaf and stripe rust has cost nearly 60% of the yields in susceptible cultivars. Therefore, it’s necessary and urgent to breed wheat cultivars that carry resistance genes.
Which recent scientific discoveries or new technologies do you think will affect wheat production in the next 10-15 years?
I believe that gene-editing technology, the targeting of a specific gene through the deletion or insertion of a specific DNA fragment, will significantly contribute to agricultural sciences. The development of wheat genome sequencing will give us a more complete understanding of the wheat genome and greatly assist the next generation of agricultural scientists. Reverse genetics assists by providing a direct method for confirming an unknown gene’s function using mutated target fragments. Gene editing will play an important role and greatly impact agricultural research, as well as promote the progress of development.
If you had access to unlimited funding toward wheat research as it relates to food security and improving life of small scale farmers, how would you invest it?
I would like to invest in wheat breeding and cultivation techniques. Wheat yield generally is around 8-10t/ha in research study, but is actually lower in a farmer’s field, closer to 5t/ha. Thus, it’s necessary to improve yield and reduce the gap. Cultivation techniques play the most important role in reaching this goal. It will be beneficial if we could provide training courses and new technology to famers.
What advice do you have for other women who are beginning their careers in agricultural science?
I would advice that women understand and develop their strengths. In part through collaborations with other scientists, particularly those who have already preformed research in your complementary research area. In addition always try to expand your knowledge; training courses and international conferences can be excellent sources for new and innovative ideas.
I would also recommend trying to balance research and family the best you can, and finally to keep calm, remain positive, and don’t rush the work to get fast results.