VitisGen2 Staff Spotlight – Ugo Ikeogu

Ugo Ikeogu

Ugochukwu “Ugo” Ikeogu joined VitisGen2 as a Project Manager and a Post-Doctoral Associate in September 2019. He holds a Ph.D. in Plant Breeding and Genetics from Cornell University. His previous research efforts include high-throughput phenotyping using near-infrared, thermal and hyperspectral techniques, genome-wide association and prediction studies. Ugochukwu is interested in the practical application of modern genomics and computational tools in solving breeding challenges. He hopes to use his experience in developing improved grape varieties.

What got you interested in plant genetics, breeding, and phenotyping?
I grew up in a community of small-scale farmers and family members who were research scientists. I‘m sure that had an impact on me, but I really became thrilled and curious about genetics and breeding after visiting a Musa breeding station and realized that, as a breeder, I could take advantage of genetic resources to provide solutions to global food and nutritional crises. Similarly, I developed an interest in high-throughput phenotyping in an attempt to solve an obvious phenotyping problem and the need to improve breeding efficiency and accuracy.

What is your role with the VitisGen2 project?
I have a dual role in VitisGen2 as Project Manager and as a Post-Doctoral Associate. As a project manager, I hope to inspire and motivate everyone in the team through the successful execution of the project.  In terms of research, I hope to support the current drive to adopt new technologies in grape breeding. I hope to build upon the already recorded success stories of the project, and strive to embrace new approaches in statistics and machine learning in the areas of high throughput phenotyping, genome‐wide association studies and predictions in breeding for resistance to major diseases and quality traits.

How will your previous work and research experiences fit in with the overall goals of the project?
I was privileged to have received some pieces of training that match well with the goals of the project. Of course, it is still a learning process, but I hope to use both my past experiences and learning efforts to make a difference in the project. Our goal is to develop and deploy advanced methods in breeding, genomics and of course, computation and statistics in improving the wine, table and juice grape quality, diseases and pests resistance, and appearance, among other things.

What are you most looking forward to about beginning work with VitisGen2?
Grape is entirely a new crop to me. This is, apart from eating  the fruit, drinking juice and tasting wine. So, I look forward to understanding the uniqueness of the crop, peculiar breeding and selection practices as well as consumer preferences. I equally hope to establish new relationships with every member of the team and get to appreciate each person’s unique perspective and contribution to the project.

What tip would you give someone just joining the project (or just beginning a career in plant breeding)?
My tip to a beginner in plant breeding, which is like talking to myself too, is to be open and flexible to change. Pay attention to the big picture and be humble enough to admit that you need quality relationships and collaborations to realize your goals. Remain motivated and strive to contribute your quota in adding value to humanity.