Dreaming of the next big science breakthrough

Dreaming of the next big science breakthrough

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 Hediyeh Tahghighi at work in the CCDM labs. Photo by CCDM.

Hediyeh Tahghighi at work in the CCDM labs. Photo by CCDM.

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A lot of people have to move for their dream job, but Hediyeh Tahghighi's relocation from the most densely populated city in Iran to one of the most isolated cities in the world - all so she could pursue a career in agriculture - is up there with the most dedicated.

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A LOT of people have to move for their dream job, but Hediyeh Tahghighi's relocation from the most densely populated city in Iran to one of the most isolated cities in the world - all so she could pursue a career in agriculture - is up there with the most dedicated.

From an early age, Ms Tahghighik new plant science was what she wanted to do and a fascination with how the global population is fed and the science behind it led her to Australia.

She moved from her family home in the centre of Rashin, northern Iran to a much quieter life some 10,000 kilometres away in Perth and landed a job as a research assistant at the Centre for Crop and Disease Management (CCDM).

Ms Tahghighi said she was fascinated with plant genetics and DNA in high school.

"I loved the mystery of it all and the feeling of discovery that science offers, I always wanted to be a part of that sense of discovery," Ms Tahghighi said.

She began her agricultural journey working at the Rice Research Institute of Iran for two years before moving to Australia to complete a Masters in Agricultural Science.

After winning a masters by coursework scholarship from the Australian Wool Education Trust, she started working and volunteering at agriculture and plant research companies, before landing the job at CCDM.

Her role is in the centre's canola and pulse diseases research team and she is working on screening lentil crosses to identify new sources of resistance against the pathogen A.lentis, as well as working with A.rabiei, a pathogen of chickpeas.

Ms Tahghighi said in research, every day was a new challenge and without challenges life would be boring

"The work we're doing at the CCDM is all about sustainably reducing the impact of crop diseases and helping to make farm businesses and industry more resilient," she said.

"Agriculture plays such an important role and so I hope that every little bit I do in the lab can go on to have a positive impact on food production and supply on a global scale."

CCDM's canola and pulse diseases research team leader Lars Kamphuis said pulse crops had the potential to be an asset to more Australian farmers, but like most crops, disease could be an issue.

"A key research goal at the CCDM is to build confidence in the uptake of pulses into cropping rotations by protecting pulse crops from destructive fungal diseases," Dr Kamphuis said.

"We are working collaboratively at a global and national scale to help develop high-yielding, disease resistant pulse varieties and improve crop management strategies to increase profitability."

 Hediyeh Tahghighi plans lentils for a CCDM trial. Photo by CCDM

Hediyeh Tahghighi plans lentils for a CCDM trial. Photo by CCDM

The lentil and chickpea ascochyta projects are aimed at working towards a better understanding of pathogen populations and the factors that determine virulence and aggressiveness in ascochyta blight-causing species.

The project team is also looking at the genetics of lentil and chickpea to try to find and characterise, new sources of disease resistance to use in plant breeding programs.

Ms Tahghighi is the youngest of four children and while one of her sisters lives and works in WA, she misses her two other siblings and parents who are still in Iran.

"It was a big decision to move to WA but one I am so grateful to have made," she said.

"My parents always encouraged me to follow my dreams and that's exactly what I'm getting to do every single day."

CCDM director Mark Gibberd said the enthusiasm and passion of researchers such as Ms Tahghighi was helping drive the centre towards its end goal.

"The science behind crop diseases is challenging and complex but it is also increasingly important - we are working to achieve research outcomes with real on-the-ground impact for the Australian grains industry," professor Gibberd said.

"Not a day goes by I am not reminded of the determination and commitment poured into our work by our researchers.

"Watching our young scientists develop and thrive under the guidance of some of the best crop disease researchers in Australia and produce results valuable to the grains industry, is among the many rewards of our research."

While she is content to continue developing her research skills for now, Ms Tahghighi doesn't hold back when it comes to her hopes for the future.

"I believe that there are still many new and exciting discoveries waiting to be found, hidden within nature, the kind that could be of great benefit to humankind and the environment,'' she said.

"I would like to be a part of the next big discovery, the kind of scientist who creates history," she said.

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