James L. Carmon Scholarship 2020
Peter Pietrzyk, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Plant Biology, applies his strong computational and quantitative background to improve drought-resistant crop breeding. How well a plant tolerates drought can depend on its capacity to develop a deep root structure for water acquisition. Pietrzyk is developing computational methods that will improve scientists’ ability to perform root measurements and identify how root structures and other phenotypic characteristics respond to stressors. His machine learning algorithms have generated reproducible results on root-hair measurement in common bean, corn and rice that were previously impossible to obtain using conventional, manual measurement methods. As human populations continue to expand rapidly, intense droughts are becoming longer and more frequent. With an unusual combination of transdisciplinary skills and creativity, Pietrzyk is developing technologies that will provide crucial data in the global effort to design new, drought-tolerant plant varieties and expand edible yields.