University of Minnesota-Twin Cities doctoral student Claire Menard has been researching genetic elements that contribute to corn’s phenotype. Claire was a part of the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) Research Ambassador program. Coming from a non-agriculture background, she is grateful the program gave her the opportunity to connect with corn farmers to bring value to the purpose of her research.
With a focus on how maize responds to environmental factors, Claire’s research works to understand how transposable elements (TEs) affect corn production. TEs have the ability to move within genomes of maize which ultimately affects agronomic traits.
“My project is designed to identify these new regions where TEs jump into, measure the rate of movement, and characterize the types of TEs found within maize populations,” shares Claire, acknowledging TEs’ position in creating more sustainable practices. “TEs are greatly influenced by stress and may become activated under harsh conditions and thus contribute to changes in a trait.”
Claire recognizes how the implications of TEs are often overlooked. However, her research has proven that TEs are not only responsible for genomic variation but also have a direct impact on phenotypic qualities. In addition, TEs are responsible for corn's response to stressful environmental conditions.
“My research deals a lot with finding genes that will help produce more environmentally stable crops, and I think seeing the key areas of water usage, fertilizer and weed control in play helps me keep focused on the areas that will improve corn going forward.”
Prior to her doctoral studies, Claire earned her Bachelor of Science in Cellular/Molecular Biology from Appalachian State University and Master of Science in Bioinformatics from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. During her undergraduate studies, Claire’s passion for inclusion of minority scientists encouraged her to start Equity in STEM—a program that helped bring awareness to underrepresented scientists. Claire has been able to continue to create inviting spaces for diverse students through her graduate studies.
The NCGA Research Ambassador program was developed by the Sustainable Ag Research Action Team and supported by Valent. The program is designed to create a network of young leaders passionate about the agriculture industry. Participants are given the opportunity to interact with corn growers, participate in Capitol Hill visits, attend NCGA meetings and connect their lab to the farm.