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K-State Today

September 28, 2015

Innovation Lab welcomes K-State's fifth scholar in Monsanto's Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program

Submitted by Malerie Strahm

Plant pathology graduate student Emily Delorean is the fifth K-State student to receive Monsanto's prestigious Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program fellowship.

Delorean was inspired at a young age to help others. This lead her into the field of plant breeding, where she hopes to contribute to developing improved crop varieties and change the lives of subsistence farmers. Her motivation is inspired by the fact that, for some places, having daily bread is an ideal and not a reality.

While she was looking for a doctorate program that would allow her to focus on plant breeding for food security, Delorean found that this vision aligned with the goals of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Applied Wheat Genomics at Kansas State University under the direction of Jesse Poland.

Together they applied for Monsanto's Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program. This program provides fellowship opportunities to individuals seeking their doctorate in rice or wheat plant breeding. This fall she began graduate studies in the genetics program at K-State under the direction of Poland.

"I'm grateful to have this fellowship opportunity and excited to be able to start work during my graduate studies in what I want my career to be," Delorean said. "This research will be very valuable in becoming a public plant breeder after I graduate."

When she first became interested in plant breeding, Delorean decided to pursue an undergraduate degree in crop sciences with an emphasis in plant breeding and genetics, and a master's degree in plant pathology from Colorado State University.

Delorean's master's degree research was in disease resistance quantitative trait loci, or QTL, specifically in rice. She worked with a rice pathogen xanthomonas oryzae, which causes bacterial blight in rice and up to 70 percent yield loss. This disease affects tropical areas where people are reliant on rice and the best preventative measure is to grow resistant varieties. This concept of developing resistance applies to wheat as well.

While at K-State, Delorean will be mentored by Sarah Battenfield, a second round Monsanto's Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program recipient, as they work together on a wheat quality project, making prediction models for bread-making quality characteristics for chapati bread in India and Mexico. Prediction models enable throwing out candidate varieties that are likely to make undesirable bread early on in the breeding process, saving time and resources.

"Through Emily's work we hope to be able to predict wheat bread-making quality in more diverse regions," Battenfield said. "Wheat breeding programs in many areas of the developing world do not have enough resources to thoroughly test for wheat quality as we do here. We hope to see her work break down the complexity of these traits so we can use accurate prediction models where there are not resources to do full-scale testing."

"I believe that through connections and experiences gained from the program, I may join Dr. Borlaug's army in alleviating world hunger through wheat breeding in an international setting," Delorean said in her personal statement for the application.

Joining the program and completing her doctoral degree in genetics at K-State is a forward step in that direction.