What inspires plant scientists and why is their job so important? Benjamin Laga explains:
Why did you want to be a plant scientist?
I was in love with nature ever since I was a child. This fact, combined with my curiosity to understand how things work made studying biological engineering an obvious choice. Once it became evident to me how we could use such understanding of biology to improve agriculture and in this way also help to tackle some of the grand societal challenges I just knew this was what I wanted to dedicate myself to.
Can you explain what your job involves?
I lead of team of scientists who try to unravel how plant genes act to influence the most important agricultural properties of field crops. We subsequently use this knowledge to improve those crops.
What are the crop enhancements that you are working on?
In the past I developed canola lines that were resistant to fungal diseases and had a healthier oil profile. The most recent product that I helped developing is canola that does not lose its seed at the end of the season. So farmers don’t risk losing their harvest when a storm passes by. Currently we’re fully dedicated to making higher yielding wheat a reality.
Can you describe these crop enhancements will benefit farmers/society?
In the next 50 years we will need to produce as much food as the last 10 000 years combined to feed the growing world population. And we have to do so while reducing our environmental footprint. We can only do so by optimizing the use of the inputs like land, water, nutrients, energy etc. That’s why it is so crucial that we increase yields and avoid losses.
What inspires you to do your job?
My three kids. As a father, I want them and all other kids to be able to live healthily, have a good standard of living while still being able to enjoy nature as I did. I would not want to look them in the eye within 20 years and say ‘I’m sorry our generation failed’. I hope my work can help to keep those smiles on their faces.
Benjamin is Head of Trait Discovery at Bayer CropScience and winner of the 2016 Otto Bayer Medal for outstanding scientific achievement and contribution to society.