Adam Carter (left) explains the basis of his research to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during his visit to USask. (Photo: Dave Stobbe)

From summer student to PhD: Cultivating an appreciation for plant genetics

Adam Carter can pinpoint two specific moments that put him on track to pursuing a PhD in the wheat breeding program at the Crop Development Centre (CDC) at the University of Saskatchewan (USask).


The first was his charismatic high school AP biology teacher in Brandon, Man., who taught him the core concepts of genetics. It’s what led Carter to a bachelor’s degree in genetics at the University of Manitoba.

The second pivotal moment was working for the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) barley breeding program in his hometown as a summer student. Over the span of three summers, he saw how the concepts from classes were applied out in the field.

“I really got to see genetics being applied in a really interesting way, and I really got the bug and fell in love with plant breeding based on that summer job,” said Carter. “That's really what led me to continue on with plant research.”

After Carter finished his BSc. in 2014, he went to the University of Guelph for his master’s in plant agriculture. His master’s thesis was focused on understanding the genetics of isoflavones, a quality component in soybeans.

Carter came back to barley breeding to work as a research assistant and biologist with AAFC for a few years before beginning his PhD in the College of Agriculture and Bioresources at USask in fall 2019.

Now Carter is researching digital phenotyping and genetics in the wheat breeding program under Dr. Curtis Pozniak (PhD), the director of the CDC and the Ministry of Agriculture Strategic Research Program Chair in Durum and High-Yield Wheat Breeding and Genetics.

Carter’s research is looking at how to apply new technology to evaluate field trials. He is studying drone imaging as well as genomic data to see if there are ways that technology can be applied to crop science research.

“Part of breeding programs, we grow large field trials and measure a lot of different phenotypes. I'm really looking at how we can apply new technologies to improve how we evaluate large field trials and support breeding programs,” said Carter.

Carter is evaluating a genetic diverse population to evaluate technologies and applying this knowledge to wheat breeding trials.

He is now in the stage of final analysis and writing his PhD thesis. Carter appreciates the methodical process of plant breeding. From his days of working as a summer student, he has enjoyed the cyclical nature of the work and seeing the steps of progress along the way.

“The operation is kind of cyclical in nature with the growing season and the off-season. For me, just slowly seeing the progress in accomplishing each small step, I get a lot of satisfaction from that,” said Carter.

Carter was drawn to the CDC at USask because of Pozniak’s high calibre of research as a wheat breeder and geneticist. After working in other crop development labs across Canada, he was impressed by the facilities and talent at the CDC.

“I’ve been blown away with the scale and quality of breeding efforts here,” said Carter. “The diversity of so many different crop species, many different groups, but they’re all pushing towards the same goals — to produce the best varieties that we can in our area of the world.”

To learn more about how to apply for graduate student opportunities with the Crop Development Centre, please visit the Plant Sciences graduate studies webpage.