Oyiga Benedict Chijioke has completed his MSc in Plant Breeding and Genetics at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He is currentlystudying for his PhD at INRES-Plant Breeding and Biotechnology of the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn. The research is funded by the German Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit (BMZ) in collaboration with the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA), Allepo, Syria and, the Center for Development Research (ZEF), University of Bonn.

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Oyiga Portrait

Portrait: Oyiga Benedict Chijioke

PhD Student

INRES-Plant Breeding and Biotechnology, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn

Bonn Sustainability Portal: What is your research all about?

My present research work is meant to identify DNA molecular markers linked to salinity tolerance and end-use quality insynthetic wheat populations with the aim of developing salt tolerant wheat genotypes for the Central Asian regions. Salinity is a major abiotic stress affecting wheat production and, according  to the FAO report soil salinization is increasing at a geometric rate. About 10 million hectares of arable land are lost annually due to salinity and thus, has hindered the expansion of wheat production, which in turn impacts negatively on the grain availability and rural livelihood. Salts can occur naturally in the soil (Primary salinization) or could be introduced through irrigation water (secondary salinization). And, in some cases, additional salts may be introduced through fertilizers. Soil salinity has become a serious issue in the Central Asia region, with damage already feasible in most wheat growing countries in the region such as: Uzbekistan (30% yield reduction); 40% in Turkmenistan; 30-33% in Kazakhstan; 18% in Tajikistan and 20% in Kyrgyzstan, due to Secondary salinization. Salinization of soil can be overcome through (i) reclamation and/or amelioration of affected soil – this needs lots of resources, is time consuming with temporal effect and is often out of the reach of small and marginal farmers and, (ii) the use of salt tolerant cultivars- this is the most promising, less resource consuming /economical and socially acceptable approach. Therefore, I intend to exploit the wide spectrum of variability germplasm wheat, a collection of seeds, available in 150 International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) with a view to identify DNA molecular markers tightly linked to salinity tolerance & end-use quality using the Genome Wide Association Studies (GWAS) approach, as well as identify transcripts/metabolites (expressed genes/products of enzyme-catalyzed reactions) that underlie enhanced plant tolerance to elevated levels of Salinity. The phenotypic screening of the germplasm is ongoing in multi locational trials & in the hydroponics (nutrient solution cultures). The findings will serve as a prelude for the Marker Assisted Selection (MAS) that offer the possibility to trace the salt tolerance genes in cultivars in an easier and more efficient way. MAS is an alternative method of transferring genes or regions of interest into the high-yielding susceptible cultivars through pyramiding of favorable genes.

What has been the most surprising/ most innovative outcome?

The research is still on going. However, some of the findings reveal that there is high variability among the studied wheat germplasms. programme. Moreover, there was evidence of strong correlations among the germplasms in response to different salt concentration regimes/salt types which could mean that the response to salt stress is quantitatively controlled by more or less similar genes. However, these findings have not yet been verified as more probes are currently on going to ascertain its authenticity and validity.

Which practical use does your work have?

From the phenotypic screening, we would make precise selections of good candidate cultivars that could be used in for bi-parental QTL linkage analyis and, the superior cultivars with enhanced salt tolerance could be introduced directly to farmers for cultivation in salt prone areas in the region. The bi-parental QTL linkage analysis is an approach employed in genetic studies to identify genes/DNA markers that are linked with traits of interest (i.e., salt tolerance, disease resistance, yield, seed quality etc.) using plant population derived from a cross between two contrasting parents, based on the trait of interest.  Most importantly, the identified DNA markers, strongly linked to genomic region that confers salt tolerance, will be exploited in the development of salt tolerance & enhanced end-use quality in wheat through MAS technique. Also, the information obtained from the gene expression analysis (transcriptional analysis) will be of important benefits to wheat breeders/scientists in deciphering the molecular, genetic and physiological basis underlying the salt tolerance in wheat.

Which topic/subject would require more research to be done?

In my opinion, more research efforts should be channeled towards the phenotypic screening under salt stress conditions. This is very complex, especially in the field where inter and intra field spatial variability based on salt concentrations is significantly high. However, this phenomenon could be addressed through (i) development and/or use of an appropriate mixed linear model that treats the salt concentration as covariance not as a factor and requires lots of statistical prowess on the side of the researcher and (ii) the use of hydroponics screening method to ensure that all the factors are kept constant but needs good knowledge/experience on how to maintain the constantly changing pH of the nutrient solutions to a level between 5.5 to 6.8. It is very important that reliable and accurate quantitative phenotyping methods are employed to assist in the identification of these putative genes. Other areas include: High through put functional genomics technologies, such as transcriptomics (gene expression analysis), metabolomics (metabolites analysis), proteomics (protein analysis), ionomics (ionic analysis) as well as pulse modulated chlorophyll fluorescence imaging and Carbon Isotope Discrimination. These measurements are very powerful for investigating the molecular, genetic and bio-physiological mechanismsunderlying salinity stress tolerance in plants.

What is your opinion on the sustainable approach of managing salt problems in arable lands?

The sustainable approach to combat salt problems in the arable lands would be through the adoption of an integrated or hybrid approach which involves the combination of both the (i) soil management practices such as: water table management using perennial plants, soil water drainage, use of clean water for irrigation and use of soil amendments and, (ii) the use of tolerant cultivars. This approach is highly productive, less resource consuming and economically viable approach.

What is your personal recommendation for living sustainable in daily life?

 We can change our consumption pattern, the a desire to meet our immediate basic needs (not our wants), have better quality of life, reduce the natural resources loss and also reduction in the CO2/waste emissions are considered sustainable lifestyle. Another sustainability choice we can make is in the area of transportation such as cycling, walking and the use of public transport for short distances  as well as video conferencing when necessary instead of travelling and the use of efficient/lower CO2 emission vehicles. Moreover, sustainability can be enhanced by maintaining and repairing our spoilt gadgets instead of replacing them with new ones and ensuring that our laundry services, heating and cooking are done efficiently with minimum levels of energy. Other forms of sustainable lifestyle include: consumption of local food/fruits/vegetables, eating a balanced diet, reduction in food wastage, gardening, buying of efficient energy and water gadgets/equipment, borrowing, hiring, and use of second-hand or recycled products and the use of renewable energy.

Are there some people you would like to acknowledge?

Sure! My special thanks go to my Supervisor, Professor Jens Leon and my tutor Dr Agim Ballvora for all their assistance so far. Worthy enough to mention are: Dr. Baum Michael (ICARDA); Dr. Ram Sharma (ICARDA) and Dr Gunter Manske (ZEF) for their logistic supports. I will also not fail to recognize the invaluable contributions and the academic mentoring I have enjoyed from Dr Francis Ogbonnaya (Grains Research & Development Corporation, Canberra, Australia). I owe them all my profound thanks.

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