Making Kazakhstan an agricultural dream country

Making Kazakhstan an agricultural dream country

Kanat Yermekbayev, PhD candidate in biotechnology at the John Innes Center, shared with us how his research in England is helping Kazakhstan's wheat to increase in quality and efficiency and what he enjoys the most about being a researcher in the United Kingdom.

I loved horses as a child

I was born on April 1, 1987, in the village of Zharty-Tobe, Suzak region in South Kazakhstan.. Later, parents moved to the regional centre, the village of Sholakkorgan. I spent my childhood between these two settlements. Like any other rural children, we spent summer grazing sheep, lambs and playing football. I loved horses very much. It was difficult to keep livestock in the regional centre. We could not send livestock to graze due to the limited territory within the district centre. Therefore, I spent most of the after school time grazing my only horse.

I came to science by acident

I was born and raised in an uranium mining region and wanted to become an environmentalist. However, in my last year of school, I read a newspaper article about the future of "biotechnology" and its importance. When applying for university, I indicated ecology as the first degree choice and biotechnology as the second one. Unfortunately or fortunately, I didn’t get sufficient points to pass the competition in the field of ecology, so I chose biotechnology instead and do not regret it.

I came to science by accident. After graduating from university, I decided to work in my field for 6 months so that the diploma does not get devalued. I started working at the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics of the Institute of Plant Biology and Biotechnology in Almaty. I was stunned to discover that a well-equipped laboratory existed in Kazakhstan. Since then my interest in science had started growing. I learned how to extract DNA and set up PCR. Although I was good at doing the technical side of scientific research, understanding the theory behind it was challenging for me. I dreamed that one day I could magically figure it out. But I had to study hard and persistently to make my dream come true.

Developing stronger Kazakh wheat

Currently, I am in my final year of PhD at the John Innes Center, a leading research centre in the United Kingdom. The topic of my research is "Understanding the genetic secrets of productivity and adaptation for Kazakh bread wheat". To date, we have identified several important genes in Kazakh wheat and carefully transferred them to the British wheat using modern genetic and genomic techniques. As a result, we have developed three new wheat lines and been testing them in large-scale field trials in Kazakhstan for the second year in a row. In some regions, we have increased yield by 15-20% compared to local varieties. This is a very large figure and requires further in-depth studies in several directions. In general, it takes 12-14 years to develop a new variety only using traditional methods, but we have cut this time in half using modern breeding methods.

British scientists are independent

In the United Kingdom, scientists have a high reputation and are paid well. The country created one of the best conditions for scientists. What I like the most about science in the United Kingdom is the lack of "hierarchy". That is, if you have great ideas, you do not have to wait until the person in the key position resigns in order to implement them. Nobody is obliged to replace another person and continue his/her legacy. If you have a high scientific potential, any research centre will allow you to create an independent scientific group regardless of your age and status.

Kazakhstan is a dream country for agriculture

Kazakhstan has enormous agricultural potential. It has a great opportunity to become a major player in the supply of agricultural products to the world market. A lot of money is allocated for this, but so far we have not achieved outstanding results, limiting ourselves to dry statistics. Therefore, we need to implement long-term strategic programs. Plant and livestock breeding are lagging behind, and for this reason, the domestic market is saturated with import products. This is a very important and pressing issue that needs solution in nearest future.

Pros and cons of life in the United Kingdom

For me personally, the main advantage of living in the United Kingdom is that people are generally not obsessed with overcoming each other in terms of material wealth; everyone lives by themselves. British people do not ask personal questions such as "How much do you earn?" or "Why did you grow a beard?" Nobody bothers you outside of office hours. The personal cell phone is not used for business purposes. Problems, even the most urgent ones, are resolved by work phone or business email. The people of Great Britain are very law-abiding. There is a trust between the government and citizens. The downside that I have noticed after living in the United Kingdom for almost 4 years is that the relationship between people is distant and family values are not as strong as in Kazakhstan. Traditional upbringing has been almost forgotten.

In general, a lot of things here seem very slow to me. For example, if you become ill, an ambulance will not arrive in 20-30 minutes as it does in Kazakhstan, but it will take at least 7-8 hours. “Our ambulance comes only when we die,” they often joke. An appointment at the dental centre is usually done 1-2 months in advance. Setting up an Internet connection at home is the same story. However, it does not mean that hospitals provide low quality service. It is just the system that works that way. One has to take precautions about health in advance.

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