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PRI Undergraduate Awarded ASPB Fellowship for Research on Cowpea Heat Resilience

By Morgan Koetje

In a significant recognition of her dedication to agricultural science, Alethia Pratas da Costa Braun, a Michigan State University undergraduate student in crop and soil sciences working in the Lundquist Lab with the Plant Resilience Institute, has been awarded the prestigious American Society of Plant Biologists Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (ASPB SURF). Alethia, originally from Paraguay, brings a deep-seated passion for improving crop resilience in the face of climate change, drawing inspiration from her upbringing on a soybean and corn farm.

Alethia Pratas da Costa Braun smiles while holding small black seeds surrounded by plants in a greenhouse

Alethia Pratas da Costa Braun recently began her experiment on cowpea heat resilience supported by ASPB SURF.

Alethia’s research focuses on understanding how nocturnal heat stress impacts Vigna uniguiculata, commonly known as cowpea. Recognized globally for its nutritional richness and importance in food security, cowpea faces increasing challenges due to rising temperatures, particularly during nighttime flowering stages.

“This research not only addresses immediate agricultural challenges but also contributes to broader efforts in breeding heat-resistant cowpea cultivars,” Alethia notes. “It's about equipping agriculture with the tools to adapt to a changing climate.”

Shannon Donnelly, Alethia’s graduate student mentor at the Lundquist Lab, praises her interdisciplinary approach and dedication, “Alethia’s blend of hands-on experience in research and practical insights from her agricultural background make her uniquely qualified for this research. Her work promises to offer significant insights into enhancing crop resilience.”

Alethia (back) and Shannon Donnelly working together on plants in a greenhouse

Alethia and Shannon Donnelly, her graduate student mentor

Beyond the lab, Alethia’s experience in Paraguayan agribusiness has shaped her understanding of the real-world implications of agricultural research. Her ability to navigate both scientific complexities and industry dynamics positions her as a versatile professional poised to make lasting contributions to the field.

Alethia recently began her experiment at the Michigan State University Agronomy Farm, and she will travel to Milwaukee next summer for Plant Biology 2025, the ASPB annual meeting, to present her findings at their undergraduate poster session.

As Alethia embarks on this pivotal research supported by ASPB SURF, she remains driven by a profound sense of purpose.

“My goal is to contribute meaningful solutions that bridge the gap between scientific innovation and practical agricultural needs.”

Alethia Pratas da Costa Braun exemplifies the Plant Resilience Institute’s commitment to cultivating future leaders in agricultural science, bringing expertise and passion to tackle global challenges in food security and crop resilience.

Read this article in Portuguese/Leia este artigo em português.