Born and brought up on a small sugar cane farm in Southern India, I never dreamed I’d become a crop researcher rather than a cane farmer. In 2008 I moved from Sydney University to CSIRO in Canberra initially as a visiting PhD student for three months but stayed longer than a decade continuing after PhD as Postdoctoral fellow and Research Scientist. In 2017, I crossed the road to ANU on secondment to take up the DECRA project in the Rathjen lab. I’m now working on the wheat rust pathogen, after spending many years cloning rust resistance genes in the host plant
Current research interests
My current research in the Rathjen lab is to characterise wheat stripe rust pathogen strains to identify virulence molecules. These molecules are the prime target for the host plant resistance genes to detect the pathogen’s presence and trigger the immune response. But in the battle the rust pathogen tries harder, modifying these molecules to escape recognition. My interest is also to understand the various mechanisms employed by the pathogen to prevent interaction with the host resistance genes. With this fundamental knowledge and using advancements in genetic engineering, my long-term vision is to create synthetic resistance genes with the ability to quickly defeat any new forms of the rust pathogens.
Who is your science hero?
Dr Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution and Nobel Peace Prize winner is my science hero. Dr Borlaug become world famous by tripling food production through the introduction of semi-dwarf, high yielding and disease resistant wheat varieties during the 1960s when there was a massive crisis for food grains. Borlaug also used a new breeding strategy called Shuttle breeding to accelerate the generation of his high-yielding wheat varieties. Instead of growing one generation of the crop in a fixed location, he used two geographically distinct locations within Mexico to produce two crops in a given year thereby minimising the breeding time to half. Being Borlaug’s true fan, in March I was fortunate to visit his research hub, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre’s (CIMMYT) regional station at Ciudad Obregon, Mexico where I had a mind-blowing experience.
- This article first appeared in the RSB Newsletter, Issue 101, September 2018