By Sandra Dunckel
MBBISP Scholar, Kansas State University
The Monsanto Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program (MBBISP) aims to develop the next generation of rice and wheat scientists, researchers, and breeders around the world. Sandra Dunkel, MBBISP Scholar and PhD candidate at Kansas State University reflects on the significance of MBBISP.
The MBBISP is a life-changing opportunity. It has enabled me to earn my Ph.D. in the United States, focus on my research, and work side-by-side with world-renowned scientists. It is a step toward embracing my passion for wheat breeding and sustainable agriculture.
My current research focuses on the identification and introgression of genes from wild wheat relatives, different gene types for increasing yield—specifically for heat and drought tolerance. My work will answer some of the questions on how the wheat community can utilize exotic germplasm. This will enable breeders to make better use of favorable genetic diversity from wild wheat relatives to produce heat- and drought-tolerant lines for farmers. In the future, I hope my research will continue to shape the way breeding is done and contribute to the immense challenge of feeding over 9 billion people in a changing environment by 2050.
The MBBISP has also helped me to widen my professional network—I have been invited to the World Food Prize twice, and the recent Borlaug100 event in Mexico. These events have enabled me to meet other Monsanto Beachell-Borlaug scholars who are the next generation of plant breeders and leaders in agriculture. I encourage everyone who is thinking of a PhD in wheat or rice breeding to apply for the scholarship.
One of the best components of the scholarship is the requirement to work with a research center in a developing country. In my case, I am collaborating with Dr. David Bonnett at CIMMYT, Mexico. Through this collaboration I have the opportunity to learn about various wheat breeding programs and obtain a good overview of ongoing research efforts at CIMMYT—a place where people from all over the world meet, exchange ideas and experiences and expand their professional network. During my time at CIMMYT, I try to spend as much time as I can in the field. Just as Norman Borlaug said: go to the field, go to the field, and then go to the field again and listen to your plants. I feel like I’m getting there. I think my plants started talking to me – or it might be the heat of the Mexican sun.