Alex Renaud is a third-year graduate student pursuing a doctorate degree in plant breeding and genetics from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, USA.
When given the opportunity to travel to India to work on heat tolerance in maize, I leaped at the prospect. I was excited by the potential for professional development and the chance to experience a different culture. My visit was part of the Heat Tolerant Maize for Asia (HTMA) collaborative project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development Feed the Future Initiative. The project supports graduate students in plant breeding to learn about and contribute to completing initiative objectives. HTMA is a public-private partnership (PPP) led by CIMMYT-Asia. Partners include Purdue University, Pioneer Hi-Bred and other seed companies and public sector maize programs in South Asia.
CIMMYT-Asia in Hyderabad, India, provides an ideal environment to evaluate or phenotype maize genotypes for heat stress tolerance. Temperatures regularly reach 40°C or higher and the relative humidity is usually below 30 percent during the reproductive development of maize planted during spring season. Additionally, the CIMMYT facilities in Hyderabad provided an excellent laboratory environment for testing hypotheses concerning the basis of heat stress tolerance in maize.
Having never been to India, I really enjoyed my stay in Hyderabad, from both research and cultural standpoints. I enjoyed getting to know the research scientists and technicians involved in the research project and had ample opportunities to learn in workshops, trainings, field visits and over dinner. My stay, which was longer than two months, provided me with the opportunity to build both personal and professional relationships. Anyone who has visited Hyderabad in May will understand just how hot it can be. It took time for me to adapt to the heat. As I was leaving the U.S. for India, my hometown received 300 millimeters of snow in 24 hours. During my first week in Hyderabad, the temperatures exceeded 40°C. It was quite a change.
In addition to taking advantage of research opportunities, I visited several interesting cultural sites, including the Taj Mahal. My favorite memories include sampling many different types of food, from Hyderabadi biryani to India’s version of Kentucky Fried Chicken; I never tried anything I did not like! As an aspiring plant breeder, this was a great experience, and I hope to continue my involvement with the PPP as it develops heat-stress-tolerant maize for South Asia.
I would like to sincerely thank Mitch Tuinstra, professor of plant breeding at Purdue University for providing me with this opportunity as well as P.H. Zaidi, senior maize physiologist at CIMMYT-Hyderabad and project leader of HTMA, and his wonderful team for everything that made my two-month stay professionally productive and personally memorable.