MSc Graduate Tests Sugarcane Crop Model’s Mimicry Abilities
Ms Natalie Hoffman concentrated her Masters research on the Canegro sugarcane crop model, working to assess how well it can imitate genetic, environmental and management (GxExM) interactions.
The better it can do this, the more potential it has to aid crop improvement for sugarcane in a drought-stricken and water-scarce environment.
Hoffman completed a BSc Honours in Chemical, Molecular and Cellular Sciences at the University of Cape Town. A bursary from the South African Sugarcane Research Institute brought her to UKZN where Dr Abraham Singels and Dr Alana Patton, who she credits for their enormous support in getting her through her studies, supervised her research.
The research incorporated aspects of genetics and plant physiology, tying in well with Hoffman’s study background as well as presenting the challenging and novel research arena of crop modelling.
Hoffman explained that the Canegro sugarcane crop model predicts crop growth and yield by simulating plant processes that are regulated by genetic traits and driven by environmental variables.
‘The model is used extensively in research and management but its ability to mimic these interactions has not been assessed, mainly because of the lack of reliable genetic trait parameter values for most varieties,’ said Hoffman.
The outcomes of Hoffman’s study are reliable trait parameter values for selected genotypes and a better understanding of the impact of selected traits on genotype performance for a given environment.
Hoffman’s research will be used in crop model improvement as well as in high-throughput phenotyping to assist plant breeding to develop drought-tolerant sugarcane, for example using drone aerial imagery for crop improvement.
This research has lent itself to further studies – Hoffman is registered as a full-time PhD student at UKZN investigating high-throughput phenotyping to assist breeding for drought tolerant sugarcane.
During her studies, she received travel grants from the South African Society of Crop Production in 2015 and 2017 to attend the interdisciplinary workshop on merging crop modeling and genetics at the University of Florida and the High-Throughput Phenotyping Workshop at the University of Arizona. She is the recipient of a study grant from the National Research Foundation (NRF) Professional Development Programme (PDP) for her PhD studies.
Words by: Christine Cuénod
Photograph by: Abhi Indrarajan