PlantLink Researcher in the Spotlight – Sajeevan Radha Sivarajan

Sajeevan Radha Sivarajan is a previous post doc at the Department of Plant Protection Biology at SLU Alnarp who just turned researcher in the same department. How can the understanding of plant stress tolerance influence the future yields of our major crops? Read the interview below!

What is currently on top of your research agenda?

I am a molecular biologist by training and a plant physiologist by interest. My interest in plants lies in diverse fields. Currently, I am working on different projects on major crops like potatoes and oats with a significant focus on improving their resilience to biotic and abiotic stresses. This can be achieved by deploying various physiological, biochemical, and molecular tools to identify different factors that make the plant tolerant or susceptible to stresses like drought and heat. Another area of my interest is medicinal plant genomics to understand and dissect the pharmaceutically important molecule and their candidate genes.

Tell us about your latest publication

Recently, our article “Exploring the medicinally important secondary metabolites landscape through the lens of transcriptome data in fenugreek (Trigonella foenum graecum L.)” is published in Scientific Reports. We identified candidate genes of enzymes involved in the biosynthesis of secondary metabolites such as alkaloids, saponins, flavonoids, and volatile compounds. Some of these secondary metabolites are of immense value in the pharmaceutical and nutraceutical industries. Among these, diosgenin and trigonelline are known to be specific to fenugreek and are antidiabetic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antiobesity along with several other medicinal values. Two of our articles “Comprehensive transcriptome analysis of different potato cultivars provides insight into early blight disease caused by Alternaria solani” andTranscriptome profiling of two Moringa species; insights into the antihyperglycemic activity” are under consideration in BMC Plant Biology.

What led you into your particular field of research?

It happened by chance, of course!

From my childhood, I had a special soft corner for plants. Maybe it is because plants are sessile and can’t run away from stress. It was always back in my mind why a few plants can cope with stress and reproduce, why not others? The current high-yielding crop plants are bread for the ambient climatic conditions. Over the years of crop improvement, breeders have always selected high-yielding varieties and neglected many other important traits for disease and environmental stress tolerance. Please don’t think I am blaming breeders; with all due respect, they did an excellent job of improving yield in many of our crop plants and fed millions. However, the dark side is that most genes responsible for stress resilience have been lost or become non-functional in our widely cultivated crops. Soon, most of our cultivated land becomes drought-prone, and frequent heat waves will hit the crop at its different developmental stages. This will be a major issue for many crops and one of the significant threats to food security worldwide.

What are the implications of your research for society?

Maybe not much directly, but I am sure it can help society in many ways. Potato, oats, wheat, and rice are the major food sources for many people in different parts of the world which are grown as more than half of all crops. With the increasing population, decreasing arable land for agriculture, and changing climate we need to improve our crop plants for better survival and yield. I know I am not going to solve all problems. But, my research will identify many genes and pathways that are very important for crop plants’ survival and appreciable yield under major abiotic stresses like drought, heat, salinity, or in combinations and different pathogen attacks. Understanding and improving crop tolerance to major abiotic and biotic stresses will surely help the farmers to a certain extent from massive crop failures like the one that happened in 2018 in Sweden.

Finally, let´s say you got unlimited research funds; where would your research be five years from now?

Very difficult to answer. First of all, getting unlimited research funds is a dream of any researcher. If I am successful, I would love to build high-end natural field facilities to screen crop plants for future climates. I believe this can help the researchers work closely to field conditions where plants are not growing in isolation. I wish to translate my basic knowledge from different projects to products by generating modified crops that can grow in the field with fewer fungicides or survive and yield under harsh environmental conditions.

Thank you for a very interesting interview, Sajeevan! We wish you the best of luck and success in your future paths!

(Photo: Thuong Ha)