A new UF/IFAS professor to combine AI and plant breeding

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This article was published by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS)

Growing up in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Carlos “Charlie” Messina knew he wanted to help people grow food all over the world, while helping the environment. But learning agriculture in a big city was not easy.

Fortunately, her father is an agronomist and Messina found her father to be a source of knowledge. Rolling with him, Messina absorbed agricultural knowledge like a sponge.

“During my studies, I had the chance to travel with my father and learn from him when he worked in forestry and agriculture. Everything I know and appreciate about transdisciplinary work probably dates from that time,” he said. “Plus, I spent hours on buses and trains studying on my way to college.”

All that non-academic learning as a teenager paid off when he got to college. While a student at the University of Buenos Aires, Messina’s curiosity led him to the meteorology department to learn more about El Niño, La Niña, and climate change.

Messina found the meteorological knowledge useful. La Niña events can lead to devastating droughts. Using artificial intelligence (AI) technology, Messina has developed crop models to predict how plants respond to droughts. The models also led to algorithms to help farmers.

Moreover, as an undergraduate student, Messina discovered other models of culture. These were developed by Jim Jones, now Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at UF/IFAS. Jones was a Doctor of Messina. adviser to UF/IFAS.

After completing her PhD, Messina worked for 17 years in the private sector, focusing on crop designs and breeding.

While in the private sector, Messina pioneered research based on the integration of crop growth models into a quantitative genetics framework now known as the crop growth model-genome prediction. entire.

Then, in January, Messina returned “home” to UF/IFAS as a professor of horticultural sciences. He works with ranchers to improve the nutritional value of Florida produce and to reinvent agriculture as a solution to climate change. Messina is also specialized in the development of AI for plant breeding.

“The university has created a unique and exciting opportunity to envision and create the future by innovating at the intersection of agricultural and food sciences, engineering, AI and science of health,” said Messina. “At UF/IFAS, I have found a space to conduct research and translate findings into societal benefits through programs such as UF/IFAS Extension.”

“I also appreciate the opportunity that UF/IFAS provides to train the next generation of plant breeders and build a much-needed diverse cohort,” he said. “I came to UF to nurture the AI ​​leaders of tomorrow. Finally, UF leadership’s commitment to making AI a successful transformational technology in agriculture and great scientists working at UF make it a great place to contribute to society.

As with faculty jobs at many land-grant institutions, Messina will carry out research and extension. He also teaches.

During the spring semester, Messina worked with plant breeders to teach a graduate course, “Investigation of Breeding Tools and Methods,” in which he introduced advanced concepts in AI. Now Messina is developing a modeling course for this fall that will allow students to use AI to make data work for them.

Add teaching to his research and extension programs, and you’ll find Messina at home helping the next generation of AI technology developers and studying how he and plant breeders can help farmers.

“My approach to research and extension is to innovate with plant breeders and other scientists,” he said. “I think it’s the most effective way to do extension. I don’t wait until the end to impart knowledge. I want to communicate with my stakeholders to work on issues they deem important.

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