What is your current professional position, title, affiliation, responsibilities?
I am currently a post-doctorate fellow with Dr. Ravi Singh, at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), in Mexico, since February 1, 2017. One of the most exciting roles of this job is collaborating with the Durable Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) project, to evaluate genomic selection and high-throughput phenotyping strategies for increasing the rate of genetic gain in CIMMYT’s bread wheat breeding program. My research primarily focuses on identifying cost-effective strategies that can accurately predict grain yield prior to testing at the F4:F5 stage and implementing the best prediction based selection strategy in the breeding pipeline. Statistical models incorporating genomic, pedigree, multi-trait, multi-environment data, and high-throughput phenotyping data from aerial platforms will be tested and trained for prediction of grain yield. I also contribute to the various activities of the global wheat program, aimed at developing high yielding wheat varieties with increased climate resiliency, durable disease resistance, and end-use quality for small-holder farmers in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
Who or what inspired you to work in wheat science and research and why?
Wheat genomics and its complexities have always fascinated me, and inspired a persevering enthusiasm to work on this crop. My love for wheat science evolved during my graduate studies at Cornell University under the outstanding mentorship of Dr. Mark Sorrells. His extraordinary guidance, exceptional motivation, affable nature, and strong dedication to pursue challenging tasks have been a huge source of inspiration to me, and transformed my interest in wheat research into a passion. In addition, the exemplary mentorships of Dr. Ronnie Coffman (Cornell), Dr. Gary Bergstrom (Cornell), Dr. Pawan Singh (CIMMYT), and Dr. Ravi Singh (CIMMYT) have been instrumental in shaping my career in wheat. I am always thankful for their valuable guidance, immense support, and incredible dedication in motivating me to succeed. I am also very grateful to Monsanto’s Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program, which helped me to realize my dream of becoming a wheat breeder. Improvement in wheat can benefit millions of small holder farmers around the world, and that motivates me to search for innovative strategies to address the challenges in wheat breeding.
What effect did the WIT Early Career Award have on your professional development?
The WIT Early Career Award was a phenomenal boost to my professional career and has given me the ideal opportunity to pursue my interest in implementing the latest molecular technologies in wheat breeding. The BGRI Technical Workshop and the International Wheat Conference at Sydney, 2015 introduced me to distinguished scientists and peers, helped me expand my understanding of the emerging global challenges facing wheat, and opened up new pathways for collaborative work. The wheat improvement training during March 2016, provided an excellent overview of the activities at CIMMYT and allowed me to gain hands-on experience with field-based wheat breeding. Overall, the WIT early career award has made a profound impact in my professional career and helped me transcend new horizons in my research.
What are you currently working on, and how does it relate to wheat production and/or food security in your country?
My current work involves integrating innovative technologies in CIMMYT’s wheat breeding program to boost the breeding efficiency and genetic yield gains, which is critical for sustaining global wheat production. Predicting the breeding value of individuals based on genome-wide molecular marker data, also referred to as ‘genomic selection,’ would greatly benefit countries where resources are scarce, and cannot afford expensive field-based phenotyping. This project’s results will contribute immensely to achieving increased wheat productivity, food security, bridging the demand gap, improving livelihoods, and increasing the economic gain for poor farmers in India, and other developing countries, where CIMMYT’s advanced lines are widely used. While the emergence of new pathogen races and climate change are serious constraints to wheat production, this research will help strengthen the collaborative efforts of the wheat breeding community in addressing them.
Which recent scientific discoveries or new technologies do you think will affect wheat production in the next 10-15 years?
The complexity of the wheat genome, and lack of understanding of the genetic basis of many complex traits, has hampered wheat improvement, relative to other cereal crops. Genomic selection and high-throughput phenotyping platforms are attractive and powerful technologies that can revolutionize wheat production in the next 10-15 years. In addition, novel genomic tools that enable better sequencing, assembling, and annotation of the bread wheat genome can provide greater insight into the genetic architecture of many traits and facilitate cloning of wheat genes for enhanced productivity. Successful global collaborations that incorporate advanced next-gen technologies and improved data sharing/utilization will also play a key role in increasing wheat production.
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 invest it in building better infrastructure for high-throughput genotyping and phenotyping facilities in developing countries, such that the efficiency of wheat breeding programs in these countries can be improved. I would also spend it on training farmers, women, and young scientists who are passionate about wheat research and are committed to designing innovative strategies for increasing wheat production. Finally, I would also like to invest in evaluating and implementing novel technologies that can lead to a breakthrough in increasing the rate of genetic gain for yield and related traits in wheat.
What advice do you have for other women who are beginning their careers in agricultural science?
Be passionate about what you do and joyfully work hard towards excellence. Keep up the courage, confidence, and good work until you accomplish your goals. When the going gets tough, never give up. Always persevere with fortitude and learn the art of skillfully handling challenges. A career in agricultural science may require a lot of sacrifice and patience, but it is certainly one of the noblest professions on the planet and can have a direct impact on the hungry and the poorest of the poor