Meet Mithila Jugulam, incoming Pest Management Science Co-Editor-in-Chief

18 June 2024 | Muriel Cozier

As Professor Mithila Jugulam steps into the role of Co-EiC on SCI’s journal Pest Management Science, she shares insights into her journey to becoming a leading researcher in her field and her vision for the future evolution of the long-established journal.

A career focused on agriculture and pest management with over 115 per-reviewed papers began with a simple enthusiasm for gardening in India. ‘I got an affectionate label from my mother as having a “green thumb”’, says Jugulam. ‘I used to enjoy planting with her and that’s how my interest in plants started.’

Focusing on agriculture for her BSc and MSc, Jugulam went to Canada to do her PhD. ‘I concentrated on agronomy and pest management principles for my early studies. But it was during my PhD where I became more interested in weed science. There were several people – professors and mentors – who were great role models and became very influential in my career,’ she adds.

Collaboration is key

Mithila Jugulam, Dal-Hoe Koo, Bernd Friebe and Bikram Gill.
Pictured with co-researchers Dal-Hoe Koo, Bernd Friebe and Bickram Gill in 2018 following a breakthrough in glyphosate resistance research. Credit: Kansas State University

Jugulam and her team at Kansas State University, where she is Professor of Weed Physiology and Molecular Biology, have carried out work on the evolution and mechanisms of herbicide resistance that has been recognised around the world. However, reflecting on what she would consider her greatest achievement, she cites her collaborative approach to research and ability to bring different backgrounds and skills together.

‘We do have quite a few accomplishments in my lab; these were only possible because I believe in a multidisciplinary approach to my research in weed science. I guess one of my strengths is being able to reach out to experts in other fields and explain by research interests and problems and get them excited about weed science.’

This enthusiasm and collaboration led to a fascinating discovery by Jugulam’s team. They found that the resistance to glyphosate – a widely used herbicide globally – in Palmer amaranth (a troublesome weed in the US) is due to the glyphosate target gene, along with other genes, escaping from the chromosomes and forming separate, self-replicating circular DNA structures. These structures, known as extra-chromosomal circular DNA (eccDNA), exist in massive numbers. ‘Discovering these structures was a “eureka” moment for us, and a real result of collaborative work,’ she says.

In recent years, the importance of collaboration has crystalised further, as Jugulam has directed her attention to climate change and its impact on weed management. ‘Climate change and its effects on weed management is a complex issue and is still in its infancy. We have done work indicating that the efficacy of herbicides can be impacted by the time of day they are applied, and increased temperatures seem to reduce efficacy. We need to explore this more, but the implications for weed management in a warming climate are considerable.’

In terms of how existing research and technologies can help with weed management, Jugulam is excited about the development of more resilient crop varieties intersecting with regenerative agriculture and the use of AI in weed management. ‘I believe that precision farming and site-specific agriculture will be embraced by farmers. Enhanced by AI, I believe these together will provide a very useful tool for weed and crop management in the near future.’

Large shoes to fill

Stephen O Duke
Outgoing Co-Editor-in-Chief, Dr Steve Duke.

Being at the heart of new development is one of Jugulam’s drivers, so taking up the role of Co-Editor-in-Chief of Pest Management Science is a natural progression. ‘I have big shoes to fill stepping into the role held by Dr Steve Duke, and I will try my best to get close to what he has achieved.’

The area of pest and weed management is a global issue, and Jugulam’s intention is that the process of reviewing submissions to the journal should reflect this. ‘We need to identify reviewers from multiple countries and backgrounds. That is something I’m keen on. Luckily, I have a great network with people working in this field from around the world. Bringing even greater diversity is one of my plans.’

Diversity extends beyond the geographical locations, with Jugulam wanting to provide opportunities to younger scientists. ‘My graduate scholars always have a lot of new ideas they really want to contribute to the science, so reaching out to a younger audience and encouraging them to publish or be part of the peer review process and nurturing them to become excellent reviewers is very important to me.’

The vision for Pest Management Science

Maintaining a rigorous peer review process and leveraging the opportunities afforded by Open Access to improve the impact of the journal are on the top of Jugulam’s list as new Co-Editor-in-Chief.

‘Dr Steve Duke has always emphasised the importance of a rigorous peer review and we will be keeping this up. We need to ensure that manuscripts are relevant to the journal, and we will continue to scrutinise how data is presented, especially the statistical analysis,’ she says.

Regular communication authors and reviewers is also part of the vision. ‘I would like to get feedback from these groups so that we can continuously improve the journal and take it to a new level and even greater visibility – this is one of the benefits that I am keen to leverage from the Open Access model.’

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