WIT Profile: Yukiko Naruoka

Tessa Schneider
Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Catching up with Yukiko Naruoka, WIT winner in 2012.

What is your current professional position, title, affiliation, responsibilities?
I’m currently a Wheat breeder with Syngenta, and have been since July 2016. I develop parental lines for hybrid wheat and test hybrids for Northern Plains in the US.

Who or what inspired you to work in wheat science and research and why?
Dr. Luther Talbert, a professor and wheat breeder at Montana State University opened up the door to get on this track in wheat science. I started my PhD program under him in 2007, focusing on QTL mapping for stay-green and agronomic traits particularly under heat and drought stress conditions in wheat. Luther is lay-back and down to earth about his accomplishments in research and breeding, and his nature helped me to think in-depth of research projects and explore the outside of the box. I am very thankful for the opportunity to work with him and his crews and find my passion for wheat science through Ph.D program, and even more so for the ability to settle in the US as a new immigrant. Since then, I have had the pleasure of working with extraordinary scientists such as Dr. Ravi Sigh at CIMMYT and Dr’s Arron Carter, Mike Pumphrey and Kim Campbell at Washington State University, Syngenta colleagues as well as many enthusiastic, brilliant, and hard-working researchers, breeders, students and farmers in wheat. They have inspired me to pursue a career in wheat science.

What effect did the WIT Early Career Award have on your professional development?
The WIT award allowed me the opportunity to meet many researchers, students and farmers on a global scale, and to expand my community across the world. I am grateful to know the other inspiring WIT awardees. It is encouraging to know that we female scientists have similar struggles in life, yet remain passionate and committed to our careers.

What are you currently working on, and how does it relate to wheat production and/or food security in your country?
I am currently working on a hybrid wheat breeding program at Syngenta. Hybrid wheat has tremendous potential to increase wheat production and yield stability. I hope my work will contribute to regional and global yield increase and stability across environments, and therefore help small farmers struggling with marginal environments. My home country of Japan relies on imported wheat for more than 80% of its needs. I believe hybrid wheat may provide a stable supply to my country as well as other countries currently depending on overseas exports.

Which recent scientific discoveries or new technologies do you think will affect wheat production in the next 10-15 years?
I think technology related to data and information sharing, as well as integration and analysis among multi-scientific fields will continue to support fast and accurate decisions in research, breeding and modern farming, influencing wheat production in the future. There are so many advanced technologies that have been developed, and continue to be developed, such as prediction modeling, high-through put genotyping and phenotyping technologies, and genome-editing, all of which will greatly affect wheat production. As a breeder, I feel a responsibility to make sure these discoveries and technologies are effectively utilized in breeding programs to transform scientists’ efforts into superior and efficient product development.

If you had access to unlimited funding toward wheat research as it relates to food security and proving life of small scale farmers, how would you invest it?
I would invest in research to determine the best practices of sustainable farming to enhance not only farmer’s lives, but also those of their communities, countries, and global agriculture as a whole. Utilizing input from scientists, end-users, economists, politicians, and farmers is key to making this dream a reality.

What advice do you have for other women who are beginning their careers in agricultural science?
It is sometimes difficult to keep everything aligned in our lives. I think being flexible and envisioning your short- and long-term goals and dreams is helpful when we face challenges. My mother would say, ‘Aserazu, Awatezu, Akiramezu’ (‘don't panic, don't hurry and don't give up’).