The latest frontiers in corn & soybean research

An associate professor at the University of Guelph provides insight into his responsibilities as a researcher, educator and editor-in-chief

By Kate Ayers
Staff Writer
Better Farming

Ongoing crop research and development are critical to keep the Canadian agricultural industry competitive.

As a result, the ag industry needs a large network of passionate, skilled and dedicated crop specialists committed to excellence in research.

Lewis LukensDr. Lewis Lukens, an associate professor in the department of plant agriculture at the University of Guelph (U of G), and his team contribute to such efforts.

Lukens’s areas of expertise include bioinformatics, genomics and quantitative genetics in barley, corn, rapeseed and wheat.

“Most of my day is spent on the computer, especially now because of COVID-19,” he said.

In addition to online meetings with his six-person research team, Lukens participates in discussions with other faculty members regarding curriculum, research planning, and student exams, he said.

Outside of meetings, Lukens works on research papers and grant proposals. He connects with university partners, producer organizations and industry members for research ideas and funding opportunities.

During the school year, Lukens teaches an undergraduate bioinformatics course, which focuses on analyzing DNA sequence data. At the graduate level, Lukens offers a quantitative genetics class, which delves into the genetics of complex crop traits such as yield and disease, Lukens said.

He’s had to adjust to teaching these courses online, he added.

In addition, Lukens serves as an editor-in-chief for Genome, a monthly journal that publishes research articles, reviews and commentaries, the Canadian Science Publishing website said. The journal covers such topics as molecular and evolutionary genetics, developmental genetics, and population genetics. Lukens helps review research papers and plans for upcoming issues.

Lewis Lukens Research Plot
    Dr. Lewis Lukens photo

Lukens and his U of G team recently concluded a research project in wheat. They looked “at genetic changes that have occurred in Red Fife, a high-quality founding wheat cultivar, and modern-day wheat that has similar qualities but has much higher yields and higher disease resistance,” he said. The team identified “the genes that distinguish those traits in the two cultivars.”

The study is published in the September issue of the journal G3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics.

While the global pandemic necessitated adjustments in Lukens’s daily routines, it also “made my day more efficient,” he said.

“We can’t meet contacts in person to share ideas and network, but our ongoing projects have been more productive than in the past.”

Since all meetings are online now, commutes are out of the picture and he can spend more time checking in with students and his research team through video conferencing, Lukens said. BF

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