Dr. Rana Muhammad Atif

A UAF visiting scholar works with a Feed the Future Innovation Lab to identify drought-responsive genes in chickpeas.

Dr. Rana Atif works on chickpea cultivars in the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Climate-Resistant Chickpea at UC Davis.
Dr. Rana Atif works on chickpea cultivars in the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Climate-Resistant Chickpea at UC Davis.

Dr. Rana Atif works on chickpea cultivars in the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Climate-Resistant Chickpea at UC Davis.

Dr. Rana Atif works on chickpea cultivars in the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Climate-Resistant Chickpea at UC Davis.

Dr. Rana Muhammad Atif is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics at University of Agriculture, Faisalabad. During his nine-month stay at UC Davis, Dr. Atif focused his research on identifying drought responsive genes in chickpea lines through transcriptional profiling. His background in genetics and microbiology prepared him well for this particular investigation.

Dr. Atif spent his visit as a member of the scientific research team at the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Climate-Resistant Chickpea, managed by Dr. Douglas Cook of UC Davis. The Innovation Lab for Climate-Resistant Chickpea is working to enhance the resilience of this important legume crop, which is grown widely around the globe and especially cultivated in Pakistan.

“Chickpea is a very water-efficient crop,” states Dr. Atif. “The water efficiency of chickpea is readily evident when compared to other legumes and food sources, but yet these pulse crops are relegated to cropland with marginal productivity.”

Dr. Atif also points out that Pakistan historically has produced large chickpea crops, but that the yields have been decreasing. “Due to certain abiotic stresses, we’ve seen large variability in chickpea yields from Pakistan.” Nearly all of the chickpea production in Pakistan comes from Punjab province. Since chickpeas are planted after the monsoon season in Pakistan, the amount of rainfall decreases at the same time that chickpeas consume the most water during their growth cycle. This leads to even further variability with chickpea yields.

To stabilize crop production, Dr. Atif began to look at how chickpea plants respond physiologically to drought and lack of water. Specific genes are activated during drought conditions, causing the chickpea plants to reduce transpirational water loss and increase production of antioxidants and other heat shock proteins. “My research goal was to develop a transcriptome resource for chickpea to better understand the crop’s drought tolerance mechanism,” says Dr. Atif.

To set up the experiment, Dr. Atif took tissue samples from chickpea plants at multiple stages of the growth cycle, cataloged their phenotypes, and readied specific seeds for planting. Next, he imposed an artificial drought three weeks after seed germination as part of a dry-down experiment, taking tissue samples from the plants throughout the artificial drought. Finally, he analyzed the RNA extracted from the plants to find which genes were more strongly expressed during the experimental phase.

“Ultimately, identifying genes associated with drought stress responses can greatly facilitate the development of improved chickpea cultivars with enhanced drought tolerance,” states Dr. Atif. During his nine-month exchange visit, Dr. Atif also attended several conferences and seminars as part of Dr. Cook’s laboratory. At the end of his stay, he expressly thanked Dr. Cook for his warm support and mentorship. “Dr. Cook was always available for me, and helped with anything I asked.”

The U.S.-Pakistan Center for Advanced Studies (USPCAS) is educating and training the next generation of scientists, engineers, and policy makers through innovative academic programs crucial for Pakistan’s development in agriculture and food security. Through applied research, academia-industry collaboration, and policy formation, USPCAS enhances Pakistan’s economic growth and prosperity. USPCAS was made possible by support from the American people through United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

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Profile written by Levi McGarry.