Meet Sunil Kumar Kenchanmane Raju of Michigan State University! A research associate in Chad Niederhuth’s lab within the Department of Plant Biology, Sunil returns to CSHL for another plant science-centric course. In 2015, Sunil trained at the annual summer course on Frontiers & Techniques in Plant Science. This year, he is back for the week-long Workshop on Cereal Genomics where he is picking up techniques he’ll use to help analyze his ATAC-seq data. Sunil has also been a CSHL course ambassador of sorts, informing his fellow workshop trainees that the course goes beyond the lecture room: Speak with everyone in the course and build your network – including the instructors and lecturers.
What are your research interests? What are you working on?
My research focuses on how plants adapt to changing climates and how genomic interactions with the environment shape complex trait evolution. Currently, I’m working on utilizing comparative epigenomics to understand variations in low temperature tolerance in maize and its close relative, temperate-adapted Tripsacum dactyloides.
How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
Temperatures in my native South India typically range between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. When I first arrived to Lincoln, Nebraska for my grad school, it was a cold December night. I was immediately cold stressed and that frigid experience became the motivation behind my want to study cold stress. <Fun emoji> Jokes aside, the changing climate is threatening our ability to produce enough food for the growing population. Food security depends on the ability of plant scientists to develop climate-resilient crops that withstand the challenges of the changing climates. We don’t have to re-invent the wheel: some crop-wild relatives are naturally adept to stressful environments. My motivation is to understand stress adaptation of crop-wild relatives at the genomic and epigenomic levels, and translate stress-resilience into major crops.
How did your scientific journey begin?
When I was a kid, my pediatrician used to tell my parents that I will grow up to be a politician or a scientist (I used to ask her a lot of questions!). Those careers have always been in the back of my mind and I chose the scientist path. I guess, in addition to the amazing scientific mentors I have had throughout my career, my father was my biggest inspiration. Even though he didn’t specifically want me to become a scientist, he always instilled in me the philosophy that ‘education/learning never ends, new knowledge always creates a way for more learning.’ That has been my life’s philosophy and what better profession to practice it than as a scientist exploring new – to create newer – things.
Was there something specific about the Workshop on Cereal Genomics that drew you to apply?
As I am switching my model system from soybean to maize, now is an ideal time for me to attend this workshop as it’ll allow me to more fully capitalize on its contents to help address the questions remaining in my research program. My research focuses on an emerging area of plant biology, and so I will benefit greatly from interacting with scientists from various backgrounds working on advanced techniques in cereals and comparative genomics.
What and/or how will you apply what you’ve learned from the course to your work?
It’s been just a few days into the course and already I feel like we (students) are speaking the cereal community’s lingo! The lectures and hands-on exercises on high-throughput transcriptomics and phenomics data analysis were very informative and will be something I will apply in my research. Also, the informal discussions with instructors and fellow coursemates have been invaluable. Learning from people with diverse research interests has been the biggest highlight.
What is your key takeaway from the Course?
First, I want to thank the instructors for putting together such an amazing list of speakers for the course. Also kudos to them for selecting such a diverse group of students; not just in gender balance but also geographic representation and, most importantly, diversity in research interests. An important take away from this course is that meaningful progress happens through great collaboration within the community, and the cereal genomics community is one of the best examples with everyone being supportive of each other’s work.
If someone curious in attending this course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I highly recommend this and any other course at CSHL. There’s something special about the atmosphere at these courses that is very conducive for participants at all levels to take in and bring home a lot. I would recommend the CSHL Cereal Genomics Workshop to early career plant scientists who are or wish to work on cereals. It isn’t just about knowing the latest science but also getting to know the scientists at the forefront of cereal genomics.
What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
The environment here is so serene and inspiring. As a matter of fact, the first thing I did when I arrived at CSHL was take a walk along the beach! If I were to work here, I would always start my day with a walk along the beach, maybe read a couple of research papers there, get inspired, come up with ideas and run to the lab and turn ideas into reality!
Sunil received a travel award from The Michigan State University Plant Resilience Institute (PRI). On behalf of Sunil, thank you to PRI for supporting and enabling our young scientists to attend a CSHL course where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.
Thank you to Sunil for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.