Three Purdue University graduate students, Ryan Gibson, Brad Thada and Rajdeep Singh Khangura, recently received training as part of the Heat Tolerant Maize for Asia (HTMA) project funded by USAID-Feed the Future and which aims to develop heat resilient maize for heat stress-prone ecologies in tropics.
The CIMMYT-Asia research station in Hyderabad, India, provides an ideal environment to evaluate maize genotypes for heat stress tolerance. Temperatures regularly reach 40°C or higher and the relative humidity is usually below 30 percent during maize flowering and grain filling. Additionally, the CIMMYT facilities in Hyderabad provide an excellent laboratory environment for studying the basis of heat stress-tolerance in maize.
On his second trip to the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) campus in Hyderabad, India, Gibson split his time on campus attending a statistics and genomics training course, collecting maize leaf samples in the field under the sweltering Indian summer sun and extracting leaf lipids from the collected samples in the lab.
For Thada, a graduate student studying thermal adaptation in maize, visiting the ICRISAT campus was “priceless” as he could “see first-hand the effects of heat on the maize trials we had planted there.” Originally from Indiana, U.S.A., where summer temperatures are mild compared to Hyderabad, Thada said this training was his first solo experience outside of his home country. In his words:
“I traveled to India to work on the HTMA project and collect data for my dissertation research. Having never traveled internationally alone or to Asia at all, I was both excited and a little nervous to land in Hyderabad, with only my clothes, sun screen and the promise that a driver would pick me up at the airport. I was greeted warmly by everyone I encountered during my month-long stay. Not only did my nervousness dissipate, but I grew to enjoy both the people and the culture of India. It was an amazing opportunity to work alongside the CIMMYT-Asia staff as a graduate student studying thermal adaptation in maize.
“Throughout the month of my stay, I enjoyed developing both professional and personal relationships while attending a statistics and genomics training course, working both in the field and the lab, exploring Hyderabad and enjoying the local food. I even had my first ride on a motorcycle, a staple of Indian transportation. I will not forget the beautiful country and wonderful people that made my trip memorable.
“I’m very grateful to my advisor Mitch Tuinstra, professor of plant breeding at Purdue University, for giving me this opportunity. I would like to thank P.H. Zaidi, Raman Babu, molecular, and Kartikeya Krothapalli, for all their help in getting me to Hyderabad and making my stay as productive and educational as possible. I would also like to thank M.T. Vinayan, Vishwanath, and Kiran for all their help and for smoothing out all the bumps that come when such different cultures merge.”
HTMA is a Public- Private-Partnership (PPP) involving active collaboration of CIMMYT, Purdue and private partners, along with the national agricultural research system of India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh, to develop robust hybrids with the help of seed companies in the region.
This was the second visit to the ICRISAT campus for Khangura, who comes from the agrarian Indian state of Punjab (the first was in 2010 as a B.Sc. student at Punjab Agricultural University). He said his first trip left him with a desire to work with CGIAR centers because of their non-profit nature and attitude to serve humanity:
“I am a second year graduate student at Purdue University and one of five graduate students who are involved in the HTMA project. Being originally from Punjab and son of a farmer, agriculture is what I learnt since childhood. Wheat-rice is the major crop rotation in Punjab but spring maize production is increasing and fits very well into most crop rotation practices in South Asia. With the increase in the average global temperatures, the maize growing regions of South Asia are vulnerable to decline in the yields. The development of superior maize hybrids that can tolerate high temperature stress promises a better future for maize in the tropical belt.
“I heard about the hard work of the CIMMYT-Asia team many times but on this trip I had an opportunity to experience the excitement of the maize breeding program. On this visit, I worked with the CIMMYT team to process laboratory samples collected as part of the HTMA project. This was excellent opportunity to work with CIMMYT scientists, post-doctoral fellows, research assistants, and technicians. We got a lot of work accomplished as the work ambience was not just stress free but energizing. The tireless work and absolute commitment of the CIMMYT team to science was inspiring.”