A question & answer session to get to know GG Scholar Nico Lara, 1st year graduate student in the Crop Science Program.

What aspect of genetics and/or genomics most interests you?

I am incredibly interested in genotypic plasticity–how organisms’ expressions change in response to their environment–and particularly plants’ response to extreme climate conditions.

What (or Who) influenced you to go into your field of study?

While many factors have led to me becoming a geneticist, I would like to highlight a couple of biologists who–perhaps from infancy–have guided my growth as a biologist. Firstly, Dr. Lyn Loveless of the College of Wooster, who has talked with me about plants, the rainforest, and evolution for as long as I can remember, and took me into the field for the first time to do a species survey of a new wildlife park; secondly, Dr. David Francis of the Ohio State University, who invited me into his lab as a highschooler, introduced me to plant breeding, and has offered irreplaceable advice and guidance throughout my career so far.

Who or what do you hope benefits from your research?

I have a passion for local farming, and I want to help small farms by both providing solutions for their most pressing problems and making the tools of the genetic revolution more accessible to the people growing our food.

How can your research be used to inform decision makers (e.g. policy makers, resource managers, health practitioners, K12 educators, etc etc)?

While I’m not sure exactly what path my research will take over the next few years, I plan on doing research that provides clarity for decision makers on how crops react to unexpected environmental conditions. Furthermore, many big-picture environmental problems–such as climate change and invasive species–directly impact our daily lives through our food supply. I hope my research can highlight the fact that hotter summers don’t just cause problems for wildlife but also directly affect the price of bread at the supermarket, thereby influencing decision makers to combat and mitigate the effects of anthropogenic impacts.

What do you think is the most pressing issue or problem in your field of study?

The most pressing problem is how to sustainably feed a growing population with shrinking land resources and increasing environmental pressures. Agriculture today is in a deadly Catch-22 where it is a major driver of climate change but will also be especially hard-hit by its effects. I think and hope that a major paradigm shift–comparable to the Green Revolution–is in its infancy, and will allow us to better feed the world’s population while reducing the harmful impacts of food production.

How do you expect the GG Scholars program to impact your work?

GGS is already making me a more well-rounded scientist and has given me access to outside perspectives and tools to use in crop breeding. The interdisciplinary nature of GGS also provides invaluable opportunities to help me form collaborations with individuals that I might not otherwise have met, to work on problems at the intersection of crop science and complementary fields such as toxicology or pathology.

How would you describe your research interests to a 3rd grader?

Almost one in ten people in the world don’t have enough food, and the total population is only increasing as food production stalls. I find ways to improve wheat plants to get more food and to better survive extreme conditions like heat waves or hurricanes so that we can feed more people more reliably.

What’s your dream job?

I am very excited about current research on how to grow food in space- and resource- constrained environments. I want to harness this research to breed crops that can tolerate extreme environments and provide more local food options for people living in these places, such as heavily urban areas, extreme climates like deserts, and hopefully even extraterrestrially!