Dr. Nonoy Bandillo, the new NDSU pulse breeder, has always enjoyed working with plants.
He was born in a small town, Tiaong, in the province of Quezon in the Philippines, where the country’s producers are tops in the world in sugarcane, rice and coconut production.
His family grew rice, although that was not his father’s only career, and at a young age he helped with rice farming.
“I like plant breeding, because once a plant is planted, you can make observations. At a young age, I saw the value of developing plants that farmers need,” he said. “Three times a day, we are eating, so we need breeders that can help farmers grow the best and most nutritious food possible.”
With his chosen career in plant breeding, Bandillo graduated with a degree in agriculture from the University of the Philippines.
After graduation, he began his career as an assistant scientist in rice breeding and genetics at the International Rice Research Institute.
While there, Bandillo was part of the team that developed cutting-edge research that was important for breeding.
“I was part of a team that pioneered the development of Multi-Parent Advanced Generation Inter-Cross populations or MAGIC in rice,” he said.
In the rice breeding program, crosses are made from two contrasting parents – one is resistant to disease while the other is sensitive to disease.
“With MAGIC, we can use 16 parents, which gives us a higher number of parents to make crosses with,” Bandillo said. “From a genetics point of view, we can increase the amount of diversity and recombination, giving us a higher chance of getting more combinations of genes and traits to select from.”
MAGIC is being implemented not only in rice, but also in wheat, corn, sorghum, cowpea, and other crops.
“One of my objectives at NDSU is to use the MAGIC approach for generating important genetic resource both for breeding and genetic mapping of pulse crops,” Bandillo said.
Plant breeders have routinely used populations derived from crossing of two parents with contrasting characteristics.
Bandillo worked at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to earn his doctorate degree in plant breeding.
“I worked directly with Dr. Aaron Lorenz, a former maize quantitative geneticist at UNL, and now a soybean breeder at the University of Minnesota,” he said.
He also worked with well-known academic soybean breeder Dr. George Graef and well-known geneticist Dr. James Specht. Both are highly respected in their fields.
“It was exciting to work with these breeders and geneticists and it further cemented my desire to be a plant breeder,” Bandillo said.
His graduate training involved the use of genomics and quantitative genetics for improving the efficacy of soybean breeding.
“This technology allows us to predict the performance of untested breeding lines that have not been grown in the field,” he said.
Bandillo also had the opportunity to work with Dr. Edward Buckler, a premier scientist and leader in maize genomics and quantitative genetics.
“I was involved on research that integrates genomics and high-throughput phenotyping in plant breeding for improving the way we do genetic mapping and eventually the way we do plant breeding,” he said.
Bandillo does not have a crop preference that he wants to work with – plant breeding is a challenge and opportunity that he enjoys and believes in.
“As long as I can understand the biology of a crop, then I can do breeding. My ultimate goal is to help, either directly or indirectly, to feed the ever-increasing human population through development of improved cultivars,” he said.