Seed World

How Cowpeas and Aphids Led to a Career in Plant Breeding

Named after the renowned agricultural scientist and humanitarian, Dr. Norman Borlaug, the National Association of Plant Breeders’ Borlaug Scholarship program is a prestigious program that honors his remarkable contributions in saving countless lives from starvation through his revolutionary work in agriculture. For those fortunate enough to be a part of this scholarship, it is both an honor and an incredible opportunity for personal and professional growth.

Marc Zienkiewicz sat down with Borlaug Scholar Boris Alladassi and his mentor Allen Van Deynze to talk about the value of the scholarship. Alladassi is a Ph.D. student in Plant Breeding with a Statistics minor at Iowa State University. He is currently working on two research projects under Dr. Jianming Yu. The first focuses on using UAV-based phenotyping, growth curve modeling, and GWAS to study the dynamics of sorghum plant height genetics across development.

The second involves the integration of genomic and transcriptomic analyses to dissect the genetic control of leaf angle across the canopy of maize.

As graduate students, the journey from academia to the job market can be challenging, and mistakes along the way are inevitable. However, with the guidance of experienced mentors who have already navigated this path, scholars can learn from their mentors’ experiences, avoid potential pitfalls, and increase their chances of success in their careers.

The program facilitates an ongoing conversation between scholars and mentors, keeping them updated on the latest technologies and best practices in plant breeding.

For instance, Boris is exploring the use of UAVs, machine learning, and AI to study crop canopies. This cutting-edge technology has the potential to revolutionize agriculture by providing crucial information for crop improvement, such as drought tolerance. However, Allen emphasizes that while embracing advanced technologies is essential, it is equally vital to know when and how to use them effectively for specific situations.