New faculty profile: Lucia Gutierrez specializes in cereal crops breeding and quantitative genetics

Lucia Gutierrez joined the faculty in the Department of Agronomy as an assistant professor in August 2015.

23495424336_a68c9be34d_cBriefly describe your career path—up to this point.
I knew I wanted to study agriculture since I was a little girl, and therefore I studied agriculture at the National University of Uruguay (Facultad de Agronomia, Universidad de la Republica). I then went to Iowa State University to pursue my Ph.D. working in quantitative genetics. I received a Ph.D. in plant breeding, co-majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology with a minor in statistics. When I finished the Ph.D. I was offered an assistant professor position at the University in Uruguay where I did my undergraduate. I was an assistant professor in the Department of Statistics for several years working on statistical genetics, and was promoted to associate professor in 2014. My research involved the study of complex quantitative traits using large genomic studies. During my time as an assistant professor, I was given the chance to be a visiting professor at Oregon State University to study barley quantitative genetics, and to conduct a post-doc at Wageningen University and Research Center in the Netherlands to implement genomic analysis in R software. I also taught international courses in Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, USA, Netherlands and Spain. Finally, in August of 2016, I started as an assistant professor in the Department of Agronomy at UW-Madison working on cereal breeding and quantitative genetics.

What is the main focus of your research program?
Some of the most relevant traits in agriculture (like yield, grain quality, and some diseases) are complex, quantitative traits. My program focuses on breeding cereals for more sustainable agricultural systems by working on the study of complex quantitative traits and the development, comparison, and deployment of new methodologies for quantitative genetics data analysis for plant breeding. We use genomic data to unveiling new genetic diversity to deploy in breeding programs in three areas: 1) population genetics and diversity; 2) quantitative genetics applied to plant breeding; and 3) experimental designs and multi-environment studies for large genetic data. Our focus is in breeding of cereals such as oats, wheat, barley, and rice.

What drew you to UW-Madison?
There are mainly two reasons for picking UW-Madison: UW-Madison and Madison. But before going into the specifics, I need to provide a little background. After finishing my Ph.D. I went back to Uruguay because I felt I had to give back to my home-institution for all the great education I had received. Even though I had my mind set on it, it was a difficult decision because once you are in a large research-oriented institution like Iowa State University, you get used to the excellent infrastructure and access you can have here but not in Uruguay. However, my time as an assistant professor in Uruguay exceeded my expectations. I was able to put together a highly motivated group of excellent people that would work well in teams and showed a strong commitment to the institution. I could see the positive impact my group was creating at all levels in the university, showing that great things could be accomplished and excellent people could be trained even in small, not-so-well funded universities. So, why leaving then? The reason had two aspects. First, I love academia, and trying to keep-up at an international level when you have to deal with minimal infrastructure and research support is tough and takes loads of energy. So I was ready for a change. The University of Wisconsin-Madison is one of the top five universities for agriculture in the world, it has the land-grant mission, and it is a great university overall. UW-Madison has excellent opportunities for students in all the related quantitative areas my students need to be trained such as agriculture, plant biology, genetics, and statistics. The Department of Agronomy has a strong group of quantitative genetics, but so do the animal science, statistics, horticulture, and genetics departments. Additionally, I liked the agronomy department when I interviewed. It is a department that likes and supports its people, and I really value those traits. The second and equally important reason for choosing UW-Madison was family life. We appreciate not being in a large city, having a short commute to work, and the kids walking to school. We love Madison and the fact that it is in the Midwest. We spent almost six years in Iowa, and just like the Midwesterners.

What do you like to do outside of work?
I like to spend time as a family, enjoying the community. We love outdoor activities. When we arrived, we went kayaking, canoeing, biking and hiking, and we just started to ski and skate. We have enjoyed the great offering of local restaurants. We also enjoy traveling in the state and around. I hope to be able to kite-surf in the summer, and I’m looking for a European handball team to join.