From Botany to Plant Science
CALS alumna focuses on improving sweet corn production
Elisabeth Wood’s interest in plants started at an early age during camping and hiking trips near her hometown of Pocatello, Idaho. That interest ultimately led Wood to pursue a master’s degree in plant science from the University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.
Discovering Plant Science
Wood decided to attend the UI after completing her bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in botany from Idaho State University. While at ISU, Wood worked as an undergraduate research assistant for Phil Wharton, a potato pathologist at the UI Aberdeen Research and Extension Center.
“I’ve always been interested in plants and wanting to know more about them,” Wood said. “While working on my bachelor’s, I realized that, as far as careers go, there are a lot more available in agriculture than academic botany so ag-centered plant science was a good transition.”
Wood was able to attend different conferences as an undergraduate and quickly learned that UI was highly regarded in the plant science community.
“The more experiences I gained in plant sciences, the more I learned that the University of Idaho is a pretty big name university,” Wood said. “People from places like Cornell and UC Davis had heard of the program and held it in good regard.”
Breeding Sweet Corn
After earning her master’s degree from UI in 2013, Wood took a research technician position with the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Salinas, California, where she worked with a lettuce and spinach breeding program.
In 2014, Wood returned to Idaho, where she is currently an assistant plant scientist for Syngenta Seeds in Nampa. She works primarily with sweet corn, researching different varieties for seed production that produce sweet corn with improved quality, higher disease resistance and better color and flavor.
“I love the variety of my job,” Wood said. “Every day of the year is a little different, from planting fields in the spring, reading trials in the summer, pollinations and eventually harvest. I regularly go from the field to the office to meetings with our breeding team, all in the same day.”
The switch from academic botany to agricultural plant science was the right choice for Wood. Her experiences at UI prepared her to immediately join the workforce and she is able to make an impact on the future of agriculture. Wood didn’t grow up with an agricultural background but her education and professional experiences have shown her the value and importance of the work she does.
“I want to be part of making agriculture more sustainable and better for all parties involved, not just for the consumers or the farmers,” Wood said. “I want it to be more beneficial for the environment and everyone that has a part in it. I feel like that is accomplishable with plant breeding.”