Carolyn Mukiri was awarded the IWGSC and Catherine Feuillet Early Career Award and will receive her award at the Plant & Animal Genome Conference (PAG) in San Diego, California (USA) in January 2024.
Carolyn also received a travel stipend to allowed her to travel to the PAG conference to present a talk during the IWGSC main workshop on Saturday 13 January 2024.
Carolyn is a Scientific Researcher at the University of Bonn (Germany).
Carolyn completed her undergraduate studies in Biomedical Science in Kenya, her home country. A significant turning point in her academic journey occurred while undertaking her master's degree in Biotechnology at Kenyatta University in Kenya. It was during this time that she had the privilege of undergoing specialized training in molecular breeding techniques, an experience made possible through the mentorship of Dr. Katherine Steele at Bangor University in the United Kingdom.
During this training, Carolyn was exposed to the wide-ranging applications of molecular breeding. This sparked a deep passion, particularly for its potential contributions to agriculture, food security, and environmental sustainability. This led her to pursue a doctoral degree at the University of Bonn in Germany, under the guidance of Professor Jens Leon and Dr. Agim Ballvora within the Plant Breeding Department of the INRES Institute, supported by a DAAD scholarship.
Following the successful completion of her Ph.D., Carolyn’s research activities extended into the PhenoRob project – an innovative initiative focused on Robotic and Phenotyping for Sustainable Crop Production – within the same department. Her commitment to this cutting-edge project reflects her unwavering dedication to advancing sustainable crop production methods.
Beyond her academic and research pursuits, Carolyn derives immense joy from spending quality time with her two wonderful children, Kevin and Ica.
A few words about your work
The exploration of plant adaptation to persistent or recurring stressful conditions has remained relatively underrepresented in the field of research. My doctoral studies, a portion of which I will present at the upcoming PAG conference, delved into the intriguing question of how winter wheat plants can retain memories of the environmental challenges faced by their ancestors and subsequently adjust their growth patterns accordingly.
My primary focus centered on investigating intergenerational, transgenerational, and accumulated drought stress memory in winter wheat, coupled with an in-depth examination of the molecular changes underpinning this remarkable phenomenon. Specifically, my research aimed to unravel the phenotypic consequences of induced drought stress in wheat by analyzing extensive multi-generational datasets. I concentrated on traits associated with drought tolerance to discern whether the memory of drought stress is imprinted in seeds when maternal plants experience drought, and whether this memory enhances the growth and overall success of subsequent generations when faced with similar drought conditions.
I also delved into understanding the origins and stability of the observed stress memory, with a keen focus on transcriptional states, particularly the transgenerational retention of gene expression changes triggered by drought stress. I am confident that the insights gleaned from my research hold the potential to significantly contribute to our understanding of how drought stress memory is inherited and how it might be applied in the development of drought-resistant plant breeds.
Discovering the mechanisms that perpetuate these states through cell division presents an intriguing avenue for further investigation, one that could hold the key to unlocking even greater potential for crop improvement in the face of changing environmental conditions.
Why did you choose to work in this topic?
Exploring how plants adapt to stressful conditions and their potential to remember environmental stress across generations is a captivating scientific question. It holds the promise of deepening our understanding of plant biology and evolution. Moreover, this knowledge has practical implications, as it could pave the way for the development of more drought-tolerant crop varieties. Such advancements are increasingly crucial in a world marked by shifting climate patterns and growing water scarcity.
Why did you apply for the IWGSC and Catherine Feuillet Early Career Award?
My motivation for applying for the IWGSC and Catherine Feuillet Early Career Award stems from a profound appreciation for the immense value of the IWGSC's comprehensive wheat genome sequence, gene annotations, and functional information in advancing our understanding of stress memory mechanisms in wheat at the transcriptional level. The wheat genome harbours a rich assortment of genes, many of which play pivotal roles in stress responses. Through the diligent work of the IWGSC in identifying and characterizing these genes, they have significantly augmented our comprehension of the origins of stress memory in wheat.
I aim to highlight how the IWGSC's resources continue to be instrumental in our ongoing wheat research endeavours. Winning this prestigious award would not only recognize our commitment but also provide a prominent platform to disseminate our findings, potentially bringing them to the forefront of scientific discourse. Ultimately, I believe that this recognition can be a driving force in advancing our collective scientific knowledge regarding drought stress memory in wheat.
In what way do you think being recipient of the IWGSC Early Career Award could help you in your career?
Winning the IWGSC and Catherine Feuillet Early Career Award serves as a powerful source of inspiration and motivation for me. It not only validates my unwavering dedication to the field of wheat research but also fuels my enthusiasm to make even more substantial contributions.
I am eagerly looking forward to the opportunity to engage with established researchers, renowned leaders, and influential institutions within the wheat research community. This networking potential could potentially lead to valuable collaborations and partnerships, which will enrich my work in the process.
The award also promises to elevate my visibility and credibility within the scientific community. As an early career researcher, it has the potential to unlock new doors for research grants, fellowships, and career opportunities. The prestige associated with the IWGSC and Catherine Feuillet Early Career Award will undoubtedly set me apart, enhancing the attractiveness of my CV in a highly competitive job market.
What are your career plans?
I just completed my PhD this year, and consistently seeking opportunities to expand my existing knowledge by exploring novel concepts. My career goals involve actively pursuing research grants and funding that are dedicated to the field of molecular genetics, plant breeding and food security. I plan to persistently harness advanced genomic tools and resources for a comprehensive exploration of plant genomics. My objective is to pinpoint genes linked to stress tolerance while delving into potential epigenetic mechanisms related to stress memory. This endeavour will be facilitated by my enhanced bioinformatics skills, which enable the analysis of extensive genomic and transcriptomic datasets crucial for identifying candidate genes and regulatory elements associated with stress memory. Ultimately, my research aims to contribute to the development of plants that can thrive in the face of evolving climate conditions, thus offering a substantial positive impact on both the agricultural sector and the global community.
Carolyn’s presentation at PAG will take place during the IWGSC workshop on Saturday 13 January 2024 (8:00am to 10:10am)
Her talk is entitled "Memory of past drought stress exposure effects plant responses in subsequent generations in winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.)"