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Hispanic Heritage Month Profile: Germán Sandoya Miranda

Nifa Author
Rachel Dotson, Public Affairs Specialist (Social Media)

In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is highlighting Dr. Germán Sandoya Miranda who serves as an assistant professor of plant breeding and genetics for the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).

Tell us your journey and how your interest in agriculture developed.

I have had a lifelong passion for agriculture since my early childhood. I was born in Babahoyo, Ecuador. It is a little coastal town in an agricultural area known for mostly growing sugar cane, rice, soybean, lots of tropical fruits and bananas.

I had the happiest childhood playing on the farms of my grandparents from both sides of the family. During weekends, we would visit as a family. I was able to go to the rivers and estuaries for some fun times. I ate fresh tropical fruits and played with chickens and other farm animals. Family is very important where I grew up. I spent significant time with all relatives at celebrations, important dates and long meals.

I wanted to study agriculture my whole life because I grew up in that environment. I knew you could do more in agriculture as I got older. I just didn’t know exactly what that could be. So, early enough I did an internship in a research institution investigating maize breeding and learned that crossing one maize with another maize made a better maize in many different aspects. That caught my curiosity for agriculture even more.

As I neared adulthood, studying agriculture was a natural fit. I obtained a master’s degree in agriculture and horticultural plant breeding from the International Center for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies (CIHEAM) at its institute in Zaragoza, Spain (IAMZ), followed by a doctoral degree in agricultural and horticultural plant breeding from the Universidade de Vigo in Spain.

Today, I am stationed at UF/IFAS Everglades Research and Education Center in Belle Glade, where I lead a lettuce breeding program. The bulk of my work is improving new lettuce varieties that can beat the heat of Florida’s subtropical climate and withstand pests and diseases. I am also a statewide Extension specialist in leafy vegetables.

Describe your involvement with NIFA and your role. 

NIFA has been a strong supporter of my work since the early stages of my career when I was a postdoctoral researcher for the University of California, Davis, in 2013. Now that I am an assistant professor for the University of Florida, NIFA’s support continues with funding through the Plant Breeding for Agricultural Production (A1141) program area priority in the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative's Foundational and Applied Science program.

Could you tell us about one of your NIFA-funded projects? What is the goal of your project and what impact do you hope it has on your institution and trainees?

I am a co-principal investigator on a lettuce project funded in 2021 by the NIFA Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI). My goal is to find solutions for lettuce producers, especially for growers in Florida. I interact with a large group of researchers that includes plant breeders, geneticists, molecular biologists and physiologists from a variety of lettuce production regions in the U.S.

Our goal is to provide solutions to stakeholders in preparations for the many challenges they will have to face in a changing environment. We want this industry to be ready and able to have cultivars that tolerate warm temperatures, adapt to cold temperatures, and that can produce with less water and nutrients.

I hope to also train the plant breeders of the future. Newer generations will need to face more challenges when producing food.

How has NIFA funding shaped your professional development as a scientist?

I was the first postdoc to be funded in the first NIFA-SCRI award cycle for lettuce while I was at the University of California, Davis. Later, with my mentors, we were able to obtain funding from NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative to investigate a serious disease in lettuce known as verticillium wilt that permeated the Salinas Valley. We mapped the resistance areas in the lettuce genome for race two of the pathogen causing this disease and found additional sources of resistance to race one of this pathogen. This project was the foundational research that produced key findings related to this disease. This training in plant breeding and genetics of lettuce is what brought me to the University of Florida as faculty.

What advice do you have for current students who may be interested in pursuing a similar career path?

To work as a professor is to be able to mentor others in science and train the scientists of the future.

My advice to current students is simple: feel the passion for science before enrolling in a scientific program. If you are curious about a career path in horticultural science and need some advice, don’t hesitate to talk to someone doing this type of work. This is probably the best strategy to understanding all the areas of science, what we do in science and how we try to improve human life with science, even in the most minimal of findings.

“Let’s make history" is what I tell our high school or undergraduate students when they join our lab team. Believe it or not, we are making history by the minute.

Top image: Dr. Sandoya Miranda examining plants in a lab. Courtesy UF/IFAS Tyler Jones.



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