Weebadde’s approach to research is to develop and implement programs that involve multiple partners for mutual benefits to Michigan/U.S. agriculture and international agriculture. The international collaborative partnerships will not only help build human capital and local capacity but also will enhance opportunities for exchange of germplasm, expertise, and attract new funding for MSU. These collaborative opportunities will also open doors for addressing problems that are common to Michigan/U.S. agriculture and international agriculture such as drought and cold tolerance, resistance to insects and diseases, and enhancing nutritional quality.
Collaborative research on Strawberry breeding
Michigan State University has an excellent strawberry breeding program. With the intention of expanding the germplasm pool, Prof. James F. Hancock (MSU’s former strawberry breeder) selected progenitor species of cultivated strawberries and recreated the original hybridization that led to the cultivated strawberry. His crossing and selection process has thus generated breeding populations that segregate for a number of agronomic traits important for breeders.
With her keen interest in taking strawberry research across the borders of Michigan and the United States, Cholani has initiated a tropical strawberry breeding program at MSU. She also conducts collaborative research with Jagro Strawberry Industries in Sri Lanka to test several of MSU’s advanced strawberry lines in tropical climates. She continues to use Dr. Hancock’s germplasm in the hope of develop better varieties. While the collaboration with Jagro would allow MSU to test adaptation of it’s advanced strawberry lines in tropical climates, it would also allow Jagro Strawberry Industries to improve their breeding program by having a diverse germplasm base.
Collaborative research on dissecting yam reproductive biology for improving the breeding efficiency in White Yam (Dioscorea rotundata)
White yam is an important food security crop for West Africa. However, there is limited research being conducted on this important species outside Africa where sophisticated facilities are available at fingertips. As a step towards building the yam breeding and research community in the US, Weebadde lab collaborates with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and yam breeder in Ghana to understand constraints faced in yam improvement. Among the least understood in yam breeding is factors that trigger plants to flower. Currently, yam breeders are unable to predict crosses, as there is no guarantee that a specific line would flower or not. Furthermore, a breeder is also not certain whether a specific accession of yam would produce male or female flowers. Some suggest that the sex of the yam plant depends on the set size that is planted. Others believe it may be linked to soil fertility, as yam planted in newly cleared forestland tends to flower intensely. Weebadde lab is conducting collaborative research with research institutions in West Africa to dissect yam reproductive biology with the intention of improving the efficiency of crop improvement. As a member of the Center for Genomics Enabled Plant Sciences (CGEPS) at MSU, she partners with Kevin Childs for her research on flowering of white yam. MSU AgBioResearch supported her initial research on white yam.
Collaborative research on green bean for tropical climates
Michigan State University is the home to the nation’s #1 dry bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) breeding and genetics program. A number of tropical countries around the world use the same species (Phaseolus vulgaris) but harvest the immature pod (versus the dried pos or seed) commonly referred to as the green bean, string bean, snap bean, Italian Romano bean, yellow wax bean or the purple podded bean. These beans are grown as bush types or pole types. While bush types (determinate growth) are common in the US, many tropical countries use the pole types (indeterminate growth) as they yield more and can be continuously harvested. However, the diseases that affect the species tend to be the same. Therefore, disease resistant germplasm developed at MSU could become useful in improving breeding programs in the developing world.
In 2017, Weebadde initiated a Sandwich PhD degree program with the Department of Agriculture in Sri Lanka to develop rust resistant snap bean varieties. Through collaborations with Dr. Talo Pastor-Corrales, a well known USDA pathologist, her student is making breeding crosses to incorporate rust resistance genes into the susceptible varieties in Sri Lanka.
This Sandwich PhD degree program serves as a model to build capacity at National Agricultural Systems (NARs) and Agriculture Universities in developing countries to conduct research on crop breeding in the hope of transferring MSU’s wealth of plant breeding knowledge across the borders.
Collaborative research on Potato breeding for resistance to Nematodes
Together with Prof. Dave Douches (MSU Potato Breeder) and Prof. George Bird (Department of Entomology at MSU), Weebadde lab is also collaborating with Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia to understand how well MSU’s potato lines would perform on soil that is naturally infested with nematodes. This research is of particular interest to scientists in Kyrgyzstan where potato production is severely hampered by nematode infestations. Their interest is to have access to potato varieties that re resistant to nematodes. Ms. Saltanat Mambatova (MSU PhD student originally from Kyrgyzstan and formerly with Prof. Douches for her masters degree) has been working closely with the Weebadde lab for conducting the research work. Given that nematode infestation in potato fields has zero tolerance in the US, this opportunity provides a win win solution to testing MSU’s potato lines for nematode resistance and also to assist Kyrgyzstan have access to better potato varieties for farmers.
USAID Feed the Future Biotechnology Potato Partnership (FtF BPP) Project (2015 – 2020)
Weebadde serves as the Human and Institutional Capacity Building (HICD) Lead for the FtF BPP Project at MSU. The project works on developing genetically engineered late blight resistant potato to be tested and evaluated for commercial release in Bangladesh and Indonesia towards the end of the project. Weebadde is responsible for developing an HICD strategy for the partner countries and organizing training programs for the project teams. She visited both countries to conduct a baseline survey of human and institutional capacity in February 2016. Based on this, a series of training programs were developed and offered at MSU and in-coutry. Fore more information please visit this website.
Collaborative research project for tropical soybean breeding
Dr. Dechun Wang’s soybean breeding program at Michigan State University has produced invaluable germplasm resources that is being used by the soybean industry in the US. The knowledge and experience of Dr. Wang on soybean breeding can benefit a large number of soybean breeding programs around the world. Therefore, with his advise and in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture (DoA), Weebadde lab is assisting to enhance the Soybean breeding program in Sri Lanka. At the onset, with the help of Dr. Randy Nelson, steps were taken to improve the germplasm base of the breeding program by taking 77 soybean genotypes to Sri Lanka from the USDA Soybean Repository in Illinois. Soybean field trials were conducted at Mahailluppallama to evaluate performance and agronomic traits of the 77 lines together with 3 DoA recommended varieties. First trial was conducted in January 2015. Based on the performance of these lines, it was evident that maturity groups VIII and IX perform better compared to the DoA recommended varieties in Sri Lanka. Therefore, along with the 77 initial genotypes, an additional 30 genotypes of the maturity groups VIII and IX were directly sent to DoA from the USDA Soybean Repository in October 2015 for 2016 trials. A total of 107 lines were tested in the field in January 2016 and June 2016. Based on the performance of all three trials, superior types will be selected for making crosses in the next season.
Additionally, steps are being made to transfer MSU’s Round-up Ready soybean germplasm resources to Uganda for conducting confined field trials.
DNA Nanobiosensor technology for Collaborative research with Citizen Scientists around the world
In collaboration with Prof. Brad Day and Prof. Dave Kramer from MSU and Dr. Lava Kumar from the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Photosync LLC., Weebadde is seeking opportunities to engage farming communities in the developing world as citizen scientists for early detection of plant diseases. The initial focus of the work is to have a system in place to detect plant pathogens before disease symptoms appear and the focus is on staple food crops of Africa.
Collaborative research on Cowpea breeding
In 2008 she was also involved in assisting the Department of Agriculture (DoA), Sri Lanka to expand their cowpea breeding program. Working with the former IITA cowpea breeder, Dr. B.B. Singh, she transferred improved cowpea varieties to be tested in Sri Lanka. The better performing lines were selected and were incorporated into the breeding program. Two of the lines are nearing release.