Genetic engineering isn't the only talent this doctoral student possesses- at Davis, she discovered her inner entrepreneur.
Sabin Aslam, a doctoral student in plant biology at the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, is a focused student and a talented geneticist. But during her exchange period at UC Davis, she also discovered her inner entrepreneur.
Ms. Aslam was one of fifteen final competitors in this year’s Big Bang! Business Competition, sponsored by the UC Davis Graduate School of Management. The Big Bang! Business Competition is the largest annual business competition in the Sacramento region, and provides workshops, mentorship, financing and networking to help aspiring and early-stage entrepreneurs advance the startup process.
For the competition, Ms. Aslam created a mock company called Byssum, which represented her ongoing research work from UAF. She is a genetic engineering working to combat cotton curl leaf virus (CLCuV), a plant pathogenic virus that devastates cotton yields in affected crops. Cotton is one of the major crops produced in Pakistan: the country is the fifth-largest producer of cotton in the world, and it accounts for nearly 2% of the total GDP.
Ms. Aslam’s research focuses on designing CLCuV-resistant cotton varieties through CRISPR/Cas9, a targeted genome editing technique. During her exchange at UC Davis, Ms. Aslam was hosted in the laboratory of Dr. Abhaya Dandekar, Director of the UC Davis Plant Transformation Facility. While in Dr. Dandekar’s lab, she worked to develop custom cell lines for cotton, banthamiana, and tobacco, constructed recombinase vectors, and continued ongoing research for a USPCAS-AFS associated research project under the guidance of Dr. Aftab Ahmad from UAF. Ms. Aslam was also invited to work with Dr. James Thomson of the USDA-ARS research facility in Albany, CA. While in Dr. Thomson’s lab, Ms. Aslam worked on vector construction, designing and synthesizing specific gene blocks that would help progress her research.
In March, Ms. Aslam traveled to Washington State University for the “Pioneering Ideas in Agriculture” Symposium, hosted by the WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS). Featuring topical speakers on molecular biology, crop production, and research entrepreneurship, the one-day workshop was sponsored by DuPont Pioneer as part of their Plant Science Symposium Series.
“My prime interest in attending the symposium was scientific networking with diverse people from academics and companies,” stated Ms. Aslam. She presented her poster on “Engineering Virus Resistance in Cotton through Gene Stacking”, and used the experience to refine her presentation skills for the Big Bang! Business Competition.
While Ms. Aslam did not make it to the final round of the competition, she did speak with several entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, researchers, and business professionals during her preparations. Her exposure to the business-oriented sector of genetics gave her considerable insight into how to present to investors, how to develop a business plan, and how to consider how scientific research should be applied to real-world challenges.
These experiences culminated with a poster presentation at the UC Berkeley Plant Genome Engineering Symposium, where Ms. Aslam won a final award for her presentation on her research efforts.
“This was the most important event for me—I got the chance to hear Dr. Jennifer Doudna (a CRISPR pioneer) speak. It was a very impressive experience for me.”
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.