Berhanu Tadesse Ertiro, a Spring 2016 Borlaug LEAP Fellow, obtained his BSc in Plant Sciences and his MSc in Plant Breeding from Haramaya University, Ethiopia. He is currently pursuing his doctorate degree in Plant Breeding at the University of the Free State (UFS) in South Africa. He is also a visiting student at CIMMYT- Kenya, where he is running field experiments for his PhD thesis dissertation. His research focuses on Nitrogen Use Efficiency (NUE) and Maize Lethal Necrosis (MLN) disease tolerance. Low soil fertility and MLN are among the major maize production constraints in eastern and southern Africa, where maize is staple food. The use of new tools could increase breeding efficiency and reduce the time needed for the release of new stress tolerant hybrids. Such hybrids have the potential to contribute greatly towards food security among farmers and their families through increased productivity. Berhanu is looking at the feasibility of genome-wide selection for improvement of NUE in tropical maize.
After receiving his undergraduate degree in 2003, Berhanu started his career as junior maize breeder at Bako National Maize Breeding Centre, part of the Ethiopian Institute of Agriculture Research (EIAR). He also coordinated the Ethiopian maize research program from June 2011 to August 2013, and at the same period, he worked as Centre Director for Bako Maize Research Centre. During his time with the maize program, he was involved in germplasm development and evaluation for multiple stress tolerance including NUE. From his experiences, he learned that phenotyping is an indispensable part of germplasm development, but it is both expensive and time consuming. Genotyping, however, with advances in technology, is becoming more accessible for routine use. Complementary use of phenotypic and genotypic information, particularly for identifying quantitative traits, could increase efficiency in variety development and release thereby increasing productivity and enhancing food security. Because of this advantage, he developed an interest in learning about integrating marker-based selection methods such as genomic selection and how they could enhance the maize breeding efforts of his home country. In this project, he will assess the suitability of Genomic Prediction for NUE and MLN tolerance breeding in tropical maize germplasm adapted to Eastern and Southern Africa.
During his fellowship, he will be mentored by Professor Rex Bernando and Dr. Biswanath Das. Dr. Bernardo is a professor of Corn Breeding and Genetics at the University of Minnesota. He explores how best to use inexpensive and abundant DNA fingerprints in maize improvement, and is investigating diverse maize lines and populations to enhance the current hybrids grown in the U.S. Corn Belt. As Berhanu’s project is in line with Dr. Bernardo’s expertise, he will benefit from his research experience in the area of quantitative genetics, molecular methods and genomic selection. Dr. Biswanath Das is a Maize Breeder who has been working at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) in Kenya since 2010. He leads the Nitrogen Use Efficiency (NUE) breeding program at the center. He is also actively involved in the development of MLN screening protocols, and identification and introgression of MLN tolerant germplasm into the abiotic stress breeding pipelines in East Africa. Berhanu will work with Dr. Das on tropical maize germplasm development and testing, and protocol development for stress tolerance. Berhanu expects to complete his research and receive his PhD in Summer 2017.