A question & answer session to get to know the 2021 GG Scholar Juliet Ochola, 2nd year graduate student in the Entomology and Plant Pathology Departments.
What aspect of genetics and/or genomics most interests you?
I am interested in plant and microbial genetics and genomics. I want to study transcriptional responses that regulate physiological alterations associated with plant-microbe interactions.
What (or Who) influenced you to go into your field of study?
My interest in my field of study was influenced by Professor Ahmed Hassanali, my Organic Chemistry professor. He introduced me to the field of chemical ecology, which helped me link my chemistry background to agriculture, something that I have always been passionate about. He also introduced me to mentors that have been exceptionally instrumental to becoming who I am on this journey.
Who or what do you hope benefits from your research?
I hope my research will be beneficial to farmers, plant breeders and consumers at large. By studying how microbes and microbial produced compounds can be used to improve plant iron nutrition, we aim to provide environmentally benign alternatives for synthetic iron fertilizers while at the same time improving iron content of plant based foods.
How can your research be used to inform decision makers (e.g. policy makers, resource managers, health practitioners, K12 educators, etc etc)?
My research aims to develop a sustainable way to improve plant iron nutrition that will eliminate synthetic chemicals, which are not only expensive but also environmentally unsafe. It will also provide sufficient iron levels in food crops and help combat iron deficiency induced anemia which affects approximately 30% of the world population.
What do you think is the most pressing issue or problem in your field of study?
The most pressing issue in my field of study is how to sustainably produce nutrient rich food that can feed the growing population amid the changing climate. Food security is and will remain a major challenge to the entire world even though there are areas worse affected than others. This calls for drastic changes in the current agricultural systems.
How do you expect the GG Scholars program to impact your work?
The GGS program has trained me to take a more holistic approach to my research. It has trained me to always think beyond what I can do and ask myself how other people’s expertise can help improve my ideas. I also like how strongly the program fosters collaboration and interdisciplinary research.
How would you describe your research interests to a 3rd grader?
Have you ever wondered how plants defend themselves from diseases? Or how they are able to get food and grow big and healthy? I study one of the ways they do this with the help of very tiny creatures called microorganisms. When plants grow in soil, their roots are surrounded by these microorganisms. Some of these microorganisms benefit plants by helping them to get nutrients (which plants use to make food) and defend them from diseases. I study how we can identify those specific beneficial microorganisms and use them to improve how we grow plants and increase yields so we can get lots of food for everybody.
What’s your dream job?
My dream job would be a position either in extension or an agriculture-based industry that allows me to research nature-based products for crop improvement.