Saarah Kuzay and Abelina Jackson
Saarah Kuzay and Abelina Jackson

UC Davis students selected as Borlaug Scholars

Two UC Davis students—Abelina Jackson and Saarah Kuzay—are among those who have been selected as 2020 Borlaug Scholars by the National Association of Plant Breeders (NAPB).

The Borlaug Scholars Program seeks to strengthen the plant breeding profession by helping support attendance of future leaders at the NAPB annual meeting. However, this year’s annual meeting will be held in a virtual format because of COVID-19 concerns. Each student will receive free registration for the conference and a membership in NAPB.

“Both Abelina and Saarah’s resumes reveal outstanding students with the potential to follow closely in the footsteps of Dr. Norman Borlaug in relieving hunger and poverty through plant breeding,” said Don Jones, chair of the NAPB Borlaug Scholars Committee. Borlaug was an American agronomist who led the “Green Revolution” initiatives worldwide that contributed to extensive increases in agricultural production.

Grad student Kuzay advancing wheat research

Kuzay is a Ph.D. candidate studying wheat genetics and breeding under Professor Jorge Dubcovsky in the Department of Plant Sciences. She discovered a gene that can raise wheat yield potential in a wide range of environments. Currently, she is testing wheat breeding lines at UC Davis and at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).

Beyond her genetics research, Kuzay is a passionate educator and mentor of undergraduate students. For the last five years, she taught a variety of classes about plant genetics, breeding and the cultural origins and culinary properties of food crops. She conducts most of her teaching in the student-led plant breeding program SCOPE (Student Collaborative Organic Plant Breeding and Education), where she works as a wheat breeder.

Undergrad Jackson taps technology for crop improvement

Jackson is an undergraduate student double majoring in International Agricultural Development and Spanish with a plant biology minor. Her primary research interests revolve around biotechnology and bioinformatics for crop improvement. Her goal is to use these technologies to improve food security in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Currently, she is focused on functional genetics research in Arabidopsis thaliana, a flowering plant in the mustard family, and maize. She is interested in the effects of drought tolerance genes on plant physiological development and seed nutritive quality.

In addition to her work as an undergraduate researcher, Jackson has participated in several leadership organizations, including the sorority Delta Delta Delta, as well as holding an officer position for the Aggie Ambassadors program in CA&ES.

For additional information about the NAPB Borlaug Scholars Program and the other recipients, please visit

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