Continuing our series of updates of past Women in Triticum awards, Kaori Ando is a 2013 receipient of the Women in Triticum Early Career Award.
What is your current professional position, title, affiliation, and responsibilities? How long have you been in this position?
I recently left the Spring Wheat Breeding and Genetics Program at Washington State University to join the USDA Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) Crop Improvement and Protection Unit in Salinas, CA as a Research Geneticist (post-doc). I work on melon breeding and genetics program as a part of Cucurbitaceae Coordinated Agricultural Project (CucCAP) which was initiated in 2015. I will develop Cucumis melo core collection using the genotyping-by-sequencing method to genotype more than 2,000 C. melo accessions from the National Plant Germplasm System. Additionally, I will work to identify multiple virus and fungal disease resistance quantitative trait loci (QTL) for melon. Transitioning from wheat to melon research was smooth since I have conducted research on cucumber and other cucurbit crops for my PhD thesis.
Who or what inspired you to work in wheat science and research and why?
When I was in graduate school, Dr. Norman Borlaug visited Michigan State University, my alma mater. I had an opportunity to meet him in person. As a first-year graduate student in pursuing degree in Plant Breeding and Genetics, it was quite an honor and this encounter solidified my determination to feed the world.
What effect did the WIT Early Career Award have on your professional development?
I am truly honored and humbled to recieve this award. The biggest effect the WIT Award on my professional development was validation for what I do. It gave me the motivation to continue working on plant breeding research.
I was also able to cultivate great friendships with people who also strived for the same cause. By attending BGRI Workshops and participating in CIMMYT training, I met incredible people from all over the world. I cherish their friendship and they always encourage me to do my best.
What are you currently working on, and how does it relate to wheat production and/or food security in your country?
At Washington State University, I worked with 2015 WIT mentor awardee Dr. Mike Pumphrey to introgress TTKSK resistance into wheat from a wild relative, Dasypyrum villosum. To date, there is only one stem rust resistance gene, Sr52, originating from D. villosum. We wanted to explore this genus for potential new Sr gene(s). We also developed chromosome specific markers for D. villosum using genotyping-by-sequencing method.
I also characterized Pacific Northwest elite spring wheat lines for stripe rust, Septoria tritici blotch, and Hessian fly resistance. I analyzed these traits by an association mapping approach. We identified QTL involved with these traits and which will be useful for marker development and future selection.
I greatly appreciated that I had an opportunity to work with major crops such as wheat. The community is large and much innovative research has emerged from wheat science. I was particularly impressed with the abundance of genetic stocks. I believe I was able to broaden my perspectives by working on wheat and this experience prepared me well for my new job.
Which recent scientific discoveries or new technologies do you think will affect wheat production in the next 10-15 years?
Genome editing technologies such as CRISPR could revolutionize trait development in plant breeding. Coupled with the advancement of wheat genome sequencing, it will be more feasible to utilize these techniques to improve wheat production. Although not new technology, hybrid wheat could also be utilized to increase yield. To be able to feed the world, heterosis from hybrids would give the boost we need to drastically increase wheat yield.
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 breed wheat cultivars adapted specifically to each region addressing certain abiotic/biotic stresses and microclimate. Also, I would like to implement cultural control complement in the region with the help from agronomists and plant pathologists. I will conduct participatory plant breeding so that farmers in the region can be a part of the process.
What advice do you have for other women who are beginning their careers in agricultural science?
The mantra I’ve kept in mind throughout graduate school and work, and continue to remind myself of: learn from the best and surround yourself with greatness. Challenge yourself and don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Keep your curiosity and stay current with research. It is challenging to balance family and work. There might be times you feel you are not making progress because life other than work demands your attention and energy, but do not be discouraged by it. At the end of the day, it comes down to believing yourself. Enjoy the journey!