Rajeev Varshney

Helping to feed the world

Professor Rajeev Varshney

Senior Principal Research Fellow, School of Plant Biology

Growing up in  the small town of Bahjoi in India, Dr Rajeev Varshney was always interested in Mother Nature. Today, he's using his skills in the field of agriculture to help develop and apply genomic tools to accelerate genetic gains for improvement in dryland crops.

The UWA Research Professor always wondered whether genomics and modern biology research could help international agriculture and smallholder farmers out of poverty. After getting in touch with eminent scientists while working in Germany, he decided to use his expertise and join the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in India. 

“I wanted to become a physicist or, more precisely, astrophysicist to learn about the cosmos, maybe because of the comic books I read in my childhood. Life brought me to genome biology and I’m very happy about it. Although I wanted to learn about the cosmos, I am studying the cosmos of the cell.”

Professor Rajeev Varshney

For the last 10 years, Professor Varshney has been working on legume crops that provide proteins and nutrition to the large populations of developing countries and the livelihood of several million smallholder farmers. With an objective to enhance crop productivity and benefit human health, Professor Varshney, together with several partners, has been engaged in decoding genomes of several crops. Comprehensive analysis of those genomes helps us understand the genes responsible for different traits required for farmers and for human health. For instance, peanut genome analysis conducted recently has provided clues on peanut allergen genes and Professor Varshney believes once these are altered, allergen-free peanut products could be produced.

Professor Varshney counts his biggest achievement as genome sequencing and analysis for crops and their publication in key research journals such as Nature Biotech, Nature Genetics and others. Receiving the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize (considered the Nobel Prize of India) is another proud moment for the professor. The impossible he’s currently pursuing is developing high-yielding legume varieties with enhanced drought tolerance and disease resistance through molecular breeding.

“Based on 20 years, my experience is that you need to be committed and work hard to achieve the goal you’ve set. There will always be obstacles in life and things will not go as planned, but instead of changing your goal, you should change the approach to pursuing your goal.”

Learn more about Professor Varshney's research here

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