Interview with Dr Vipula (“Vi”) Shukla of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation 

Vipula “Vi” Shukla is senior program officer for agricultural research and development (R&D) at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Ambassador and Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Biochemistry, University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Vipula “Vi” Shukla is senior program officer for agricultural research and development (R&D) at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In this capacity she wears many hats. One of her primary roles is identifying research areas and novel technologies in which the foundation can invest its resources to improve productivity for smallholder farmers in developing nations. Before joining the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Vi worked at Dow AgroSciences, first as a scientific leader in discovery (R&D), then in technology licensing and commercialization. As the scientific leader in discovery, her team developed zinc-finger nucleases for precision genome editing in maize. Vi trained as a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Detlef Weigel at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and in the lab of Maarten Chrispeels at the University of California San Diego. For her PhD, she worked on the photosynthetic machinery in the cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 in the lab of Himadri Pakrasi at Washington University in St. Louis. Vi is a captivating speaker and active participant at science conferences. Her career trajectory from basic biology research at universities to research in an industrial setting to licensing and commercialization to goaloriented philanthropy provides her with a unique perspective on plant biology and its translational power. In a wide-ranging interview for this column, she answered my questions about her career path, described her work and interests, and offered insight and advice.

What are some of the projects currently under consideration or in the works at the Gates Foundation that are exciting to you?

There are several foundation funded programs that, when they were initiated, were considered “crazy ideas” or “moonshots” (e.g., direct nitrogen fixation in cereals, C4 rice). Over time, some of these ideas have advanced and seem less crazy and more real, with plant lines and data. Programs that represent real conceptual breakthroughs in how we think about not just plant biology but also translation into crop breeding and cultivation are exciting. One is the Hy-Gain program, which is developing apomictic sorghum and cowpea. Not only will farmers be able to save seed from self-reproducing hybrids that have higher yield and vigor, but in addition this technology has the potential to change, for the better, how crop breeding and varietal development are carried out.

Source: Luminaries section of the American Society of Plant Biologists’ Nov/Dec 2020 newsletter on pages 14-16. View online from original source