A question & answer session to get to know the 2021 GG Scholar Asa Budnick, 1st year graduate student in the Plant Biology Program. He has joined the Sederoff Lab.

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

I find natural systems to be really beautiful. I love biology partly because of the amazing diversity and complexity that comes from the compounding layers of physics and chemistry. I think that genetics and genomics make a good fulcrum to study biology because they can be applied to all known organisms. I have spent the most time with functional genomics, but I believe in holistic approaches and consider myself a jack of all trades.

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

When I was a kid I played a video game that featured genetic engineering. It was a totally ridiculous game but it sparked an interest and an awareness at an early age. Throughout my schooling I kept moving in that direction. I knew I loved biology and that I had no interest in the medical career path. I think it is my duty to help people with my work and I looked for the best way of doing that. After working at a biotech focused on human medicine I decided that I couldn’t have the kind of impact that I wanted in that field. The next semester I took a plant biotechnology course and began to realize the potential for radical positive change that I might be able to have working in agriculture.

Who or what do you hope benefits from your research?

I hope that my work can help improve the equity and sustainability of global agricultural systems. I believe that the current global food system is exclusionary, environmentally destructive, and fails to provide adequate food to people. I plan on spending my career advancing our understanding of plant biology and applying that understanding to improve global agriculture.

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

At the moment my research is focused on characterizing a class of understudied RNA molecules. My research is a little esoteric partly because there is not much research yet. Eventually these RNA molecules could be shown to be very important in more practical aspects of plant biology and then it would be important to communicate how more research and development could impact agricultural production.

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

Agriculture is a hugely intersectional issue. Everyone must eat to live. The production and distribution of food is tied to land, water, capital, culture and so many other factors. I believe that much of our global food system needs radical change but that change must happen in a way that benefits people across the gamut of socioeconomic, cultural, and other backgrounds. I think this requires a re-centering of food production away from profit and towards mutual benefit of planet and people. To me the most pressing issue is how our field can contribute to this change through research and engagement.

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

I have already seen the GGS influence my work by broadening my perspective and providing me with peers and role models. The focus on a holistic understanding of genetics combined with the importance of engagement and staying with thorny problems has energized me and given me tools that I will use for the rest of my life.

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

I study how plants work. I’m interested in figuring out how plants are able to deal with hard conditions, like when it is too hot. I hope that if we figure these things out we will be able to grow plants better and feed more people.

What’s your dream job?

My dream job is to do research and advocacy in a setting that allows me to connect my work directly to farmers in the field. I would like to work in a setting where people are motivated to make real change that is not based on raising shareholder value.