From Nepal To Minnesota, This Scientist Is Helping Domesticate A New Crop


Zenith Tandukar, initially from the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal, is now a part of an effort to cultivate a wild plant right into a model new oilseed crop appropriate for biofuels, jet fuels, and meals oil.

Tandukar, who’s at the moment a PhD candidate at University of Minnesota, says the thought is to breed a wild plant referred to as pennycress to some extent that it may be an oilseed crop (like canola or sunflowers) which might match into the fallow intervals between the principle corn and soybean rotations in Midwest cropping methods.

“The biggest challenge with this project is trying to emulate the process of domestication that takes place over thousands of years into a decade worth of research and development,” he says.

Tandukar says will guarantee a extra sustainable intensification of agriculture, extra ecosystem advantages for the atmosphere, and extra revenue for the farmers.

“My main projects are looking at understanding the genetic basis of seed size and oil content in pennycress so we can maximize seed and oil yields for our farmers,” he says, “This is extremely important to ensure widespread adoption of pennycress as a cash cover crop.”

Tandukar says working with orphan crops with restricted genetic and genomic assets can be a giant problem, however that he has had the nice fortune of contributing to essentially the most complete model of the pennycress genome that is at the moment being finalized.

“The novelty and limitless potential of this research opportunity is the most exciting part of working with pennycress,” he says.

A Series of Fortunate Events

Tandukar grew up in Kathmandu, the capital of the Himalayan nation of Nepal.

“I am part of the Newar tribe who are indigenous inhabitants of Kathmandu valley,” he says, “My personal journey into my research area has been a series of fortunate events.”

Tandukar left Nepal after highschool to pursue larger schooling, within the aftermath of the nation’s civil warfare, with the objective of discovering his personal path that was not medical or engineering faculty, the default profession expectations in Nepal.

“My Eureka moment came later in life when I started doing undergraduate research in a maize genetics lab,” he mentioned, “A whole new world of possibilities opened up that I had never considered before.”

Fighting Inequality

Tandukar says that for him, the scariest a part of life in STEM within the US is the systematic boundaries towards folks of colour, marginalized and underrepresented communities.

“The erasure of cultural identity is not a new experience for me as there is prevalent discrimination against the indigenous Newar people, our language and culture in Nepal,” he says, “In addition, as an international student from Nepal, I’ve had to deal with my fair share of racism and alienation in the educational and academic system that was not built with people like me or with others from the global south in mind.”

However, Tandukar says he does really feel very lucky to have discovered a scientific neighborhood in Minnesota that values his scientific contributions, in addition to accepting him for who he’s.

“I think it is extremely important for people from the global south to recognize these disparities and actively challenge them in every step,” he says, “My sincere hope is that the inequities in STEM stop with our generation as we work towards advocating for and building the communities we wished for when we were starting out.”

Another Global South botanist who helps the economic system and farmers within the US is Colombian researcher Lina Quesada-Ocampo.

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