María Elker Montoya started her career as a Research Assistant at the Latin American Fund for Irrigated Rice (FLAR, for its Spanish initials) and is currently a member of the Phenotyping Platform team at CIAT. She developed a method to identify different stages of infection in plants, helping producers with problems caused by Rice Hoja Blanca Virus (RHBV), which has been found recently in rice plantations in Latin America and the Caribbean.
RHBV attacks grass species and causes considerable yield losses in rice. It produces spots on leaves, which grow and merge to form lengthwise, pale yellow stripes on leaves. Being able to measure accurately what proportion of plant leaves is affected by the virus helps determine the severity of damage.
“Determining the severity had not been accomplished thus far and, although it could be measured by hand, it is a task almost impossible to carry out,” says Montoya.
The challenge was creating a methodology that would allow measuring the severity accurately and at a low cost. María started from scratch and, in less than four months, she standardized a reliable, low-cost methodology that can be replicated. She accomplished this using digital images processed with a free software called ImageJ. Currently, the methodology is being applied with other plant breeding procedures. This has resulted in new advances to deal with the virus, including the discovery of new regions of the genome associated to resistance to this disease, in a study by CIAT researchers Alex Silva and Dr. Maribel Cruz.
Thanks to God and the research work I have carried out at CIAT, my life was positively changed, because it was in this institution that I was able to grow professionally. Scientists from the Rice Program and the Phenotyping Platform trained me as a researcher and I am grateful for all they have taught me. It is an honor to be a part of this organization, which is regarded as a leading research institution in Colombia, in addition to its worldwide reputation.María Elker Montoya
Harnessing the experience and the approach of this methodology, María and her team managed to rapidly standardize another three methodologies, which increased efficiency in some rice grain characterization processes, such as counting, length measurement and white center measurement, which is important in rice quality.
María emphasizes this methodology could not have been developed without the research carried out at CIAT over many years. This work benefits farmers who will be able to use RHBV-resistant materials for better eco-efficient management of their crops.