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#IAmScience Hong An

Hong An is a postdoctoral fellow in the Pires lab. | Photo by Mariah Cox, Bond LSC

By Mariah Cox | Bond LSC

Broccoli, cauliflower, kale and cabbage all make up an important part of the food system and provide the nutrients we need to stay healthy—yet, there is still much that researchers don’t know about the genetic structure and the ancestral history of Brassicaceae, the mustard and cabbage family.

Hong An, a postdoctoral fellow in Chris Pires lab, has spent the past three years mapping the genetic history of canola seeds, which are in the Brassicaceae family, to find when and where different variations of the vegetables have occurred. Through this research, An can find the timeline of the formation of the vegetables and estimate how they got from one part of the earth to another.

“Canola oil is ranked the second in the world in oil production following soybean oil which makes it a very important agricultural crop,” said An. “Through my research, I’m trying to find specific genes that will help breeders make batter canola oil. “

An can use this research to understand the genes that make up the different breeds of canola seeds around the world. These findings can help researchers modify plants to improve the quality of the oil and optimize the growing of the plant altogether.

Additionally, An studies two subspecies of the canola species, which are rutabaga and Siberian kale, to improve worldwide breeding of these crops.

“I want to find a gene that can improve rutabaga and kale to make them more nutritious and tastier. Rutabaga already tastes good, but kale is bitter, so we want to find the genes in rutabaga that make it tasty and add those to kale to make it taste less bitter,” said An.

An grew up in the north part of China and never saw canola fields until he moved to the south part of China to attend college.

“As soon as I got to college, I remember thinking that [the canola fields] were so beautiful and that I wanted to study them,” said An.

For his Ph.D., An attended Huazhong Agricultural University and obtained his degree in crop genetic breeding. Although he has been working on his post-doc for three years, this isn’t his first time researching at MU. While he was getting his degree, he spent two years as a joint student in the Pires lab.

After his post-doc, An hopes to carry his knowledge of genetic crop breeding to a career at a seed breeding or biotechnology company.

“Many Brassicaceae are very important for us which is why it’s significant to find a way to make them more nutritious,” said An. “It’s important for people to know where our food comes from.”

Article originally published on Decoding Science.