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Last update: May 2021

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Hikmet Budak

Professor in the Molecular Biology, Genetics and Bioengineering Program, Sabanci University, Turkey

Hikmet Budak
Hikmet Budak is a Professor in the Molecular Biology, Genetics and Bioengineering Program at Sabanci University, Turkey, where he leads the Plant Genetics and Genomics team. He also serves as an adjunct Professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, USA. His major research foci include biotic and abiotic stress responses in cereals, and the components of stress tolerance mechanisms, including post-transcriptional regulators, such as microRNAs.

Hikmet and his team carry out comparative analyses on the transcriptome, proteome, and metabolome levels to dissect stress response mechanisms, particularly drought. He is also interested in understanding more about gene transmission and silencing.

Hikmet has been an IWGSC Coordinating Committee member since 2005. As part of the IWGSC, Hikmet and his team have completed the survey sequence of wheat chromosome 5D and contributed to survey sequencing of 1AL. This result, along with the survey sequence of 20 other bread wheat chromosomes, was published in Science in July 2014. Hikmet and his team have also completed the physical maps of chromosome 1AL and 5DS and collaborated with Bayer CropScience on the development of the physical map for 5DL. Recently, he received two grants from the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK), and Republic of Turkey Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock to produce the reference sequence of both arms of chromosome 5D.

Additionally, Hikmet’s team is involved in the DROught-tolerant yielding PlantS (DROPS) Project, a FP7 EU Project, and is currently working at the international level on chromosome- based survey sequencing of Triticum dicoccoides, wild emmer wheat.

What are the benefits of being part of an international consortium?

Communication and collaboration are two extremely important aspects of our research, particularly for the crop species that we are working on. Being a part of the IWGSC with outstanding partners from various research groups enable immediate dissemination of the data within the consortium, which not only provide valuable resources to ongoing projects, but also allows us to use our time and resources efficiently and effectively.

You completed the survey sequence of chromosome 5D and a physical map of 1AL and 5DS as part of IWGSC, how has this work contributed to your overall research projects?

The survey sequences have been very informative on the 5D chromosome content, organization and evolution. Notably, these sequences enabled us to discover novel microRNAs, a subset of which has been experimentally validated and localized on the D genome, only. The recently completed physical maps of 1AL and 5DS will provide the framework for the assembly of the reference sequences for these chromosomes. Additionally, the physical maps have provided important clues into the structure and organization of these chromosomes.

How have you used the data you generated within IWGSC projects in other research projects in your lab?

We used the data generated within the IWGSC project for comparative analyses of related organisms. We are also working on detecting Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) that we can associate to certain traits, which can then be implemented in breeding programs. The 5DS physical map has also been used for the fine-mapping of a gene of interest, which should be published soon.

What could IWGSC do to further help you in your work?

Most urgently, the release of ‘a finished quality’ genome sequence of the bread wheat will greatly assist us, as researchers, and the breeders, as well. Our intensive efforts are also working towards this ultimate goal.

According to you, what is the value of genomic technologies for wheat breeding?

With the world population projected to exceed 9,6 billion by 2050, we feel that the breeding community will need a second Green Revolution, which in my opinion, is attainable through genomics and genomics-assisted breeding. Through genomics research, we are now able to identify many genes or regulatory elements all at once and use this information to design thousands of molecular markers, which accelerates map-based cloning or marker-assisted selection of desired traits. Therefore, we believe that genomic technologies are integral tools to wheat improvement.

You are studying small RNAs involved in stress responses. Could you elaborate and give an example on how this research could benefit wheat breeders, for example?

Small RNAs are 20-30 nucleotide long sequences which are used for regulation of various biological processes by generally interfering with mRNA translation. There are several types of small RNAs; our research is focused on microRNAs, crucial molecules for regulation of gene expression and gene silencing. Understanding microRNA diversity in wheat and its close relatives give us the ability to control the expression of specific genes or to deactivate some important characters. The advances in technology allow the synthesis of synthetic homologues of microRNAs, called artificial microRNAs. This technology gives researchers the chance to control the traits in plants with little to no effects on other mechanisms. MicroRNA research provides an important new avenue to enhance agronomic performance and the nutritional value of bread wheat.

Why are you interested in wild relatives of wheat? And to what extend can the study of wild relatives contribute to the advancement of knowledge on cultivated wheat varieties?

Domestication, followed by years of cultivation under highly controlled conditions, has considerably narrowed the gene pools of elite cultivars for improved yield, which is actually a major problem in breeding today. Wild wheat populations and landraces exhibit a high level of genetic diversity for many traits, in particular abiotic and biotic stress tolerance. As these genotypes can produce viable offspring with elite cultivars, they present a promising gene pool that can be utilized in wheat improvement. Additionally, genotypes with highly contrasting responses to certain treatments, such as drought, provide insight into genetic factors causing the contrasting response. This way, we can explore favorable alleles for, let’s say, drought tolerance and exploit the genetic diversity found within the wild populations in breeding programs through introgression.

What are your future plans?

I would like to see the genetics and genomics work in the field. So my future plan is mainly to transfer our basic research to applied research. This could be achieved by completing reference sequencing of chromosome of our interest, 5D. Then, I could utilize and apply gene(s), gene blocs, and marker(s) in plant species I work with in response to abiotic and biotic stress.

About Hikmet

Hikmet Budak received his PhD in plant genetics and breeding from University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), USA in 2002. He worked as a coordinator and led grass genetics and breeding program at UNL and returned to Turkey in 2004. He was awarded the Turkish Young Scientist award in 2006 in Turkey and an received and achievement award by WORLCOMP06, USA. Hikmet has authored or co-authored over 90 publications in peer-reviewed journals and his work has attracted over $2.5 million in funding from TÜBİTAK (the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey), the European Commission, and US funding agencies.

Publication date: 06/23/2015