WASHINGTON – The Potato Leadership, Education and Advancement Foundation (Potato LEAF) is pleased to announce Thilani Jayakody, a third-year graduate student in the Michigan State University’s Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences, as the recipient of its 2021-22 Academic Scholarship. The $10,000 scholarship award is provided annually to one graduate student with a strong interest in research that can directly benefit the U.S. potato industry.
“Potato LEAF was created to ensure the long-term health of the U.S. potato industry by investing in its future leaders,” said the organization’s chair Shelley Olsen. “We’re thrilled to support Thilani’s educational and research goals that will advance our collective knowledge and set us on the path for a better, more productive tomorrow.”
As a Ph.D. candidate and graduate research assistant, Jayakody’s research involves connecting her interests in genome editing to the applied goals of Michigan State’s breeding program. For her, these interests have been set in the application of new breeding techniques for crop improvement – which has been propelled by the recent popularity of genome editing.
“Currently, I’m working to reduce the effects of enzymatic browning through gene editing. I’m also working to understand the accuracy of new genome editing platforms, as these off-targeting effects are a major regulatory concern in accepting genome edited food crops,” said Jayakody. “I’m fortunate to be part of a dynamic and innovative community where I can pursue my research interests while contributing directly to the advancement of potato breeding.”
According to Dr. David S. Douches, Professor and Director of Michigan State University’s Potato Breeding and Genetics Program, who is overseeing Jayakody’s Ph.D. research project, Jayakody is an ideal candidate for the scholarship. In his letter of recommendation, Dr. Douches wrote that he sees Jayakody as “a model for a new generation of plant breeding and genetics graduates.” He continued to say, “Thilani easily meets the high standards I set for the graduate students in my program. She is a dedicated scientist that is mature, intelligent, and hard working.”
Jayakody is an active leader on campus, currently serving on the student-led Plant, Soil and Microbial Science Department Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee. She also serves as a Graduate Student Representative on the NSF National Research Traineeship IMPACTS Curriculum Committee and the Recruitment Chair for the Association for Crop and Soil Sciences (ACRS).
Potato LEAF, a 501(c)3 organization, works to provide tools, training, and support necessary to develop growers and industry members as leaders. As part of its mission to encourage and train future leaders, the organization seeks to support graduate-level researchers driving innovation within the potato industry. To learn more, visit pleaf.org.