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Nadia Shakoor Says PheNode Will Help Increase Crop Yields

10 Up & Comers: Nadia Shakoor

Nadia Shakoor was not raised on a farm, but she was taught to appreciate nature at home in Illinois. “My parents are avid gardeners, so I grew up taking care of plants,” she says. Her first job out of college was with a cosmetics firm, but she missed plants. “I always liked working in fields, and I wanted to see if I could make a difference in the world through food security,” she says. 

Shakoor went back to graduate school for a doctorate in plant science. Her research in sorghum genetics brought her to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center near St. Louis, Missouri. There, Shakoor and colleagues developed the PheNode, a solar-powered environmental sensor and phenotyping station for crops. Sensors and cameras on the tool take real-time measurements of temperature, humidity, CO2, rainfall, air quality, wind speed, light quantity and quality, soil moisture, soil temperature, pH, and more. 

“The PheNode will help crop breeders identify and develop varieties for increased yield,” explains Shakoor. The tool allows you to monitor directly within the plant canopy, providing crucial information for crop improvement and precision agriculture. One version of the PheNode can take images of crop roots in the soil, allowing observation of root growth and development in real time.

“The PheNode provides a snapshot of a crop plant’s environment,” says Shakoor. The tool is powered by solar panels with a backup battery, and all sensor data is stored locally and transmitted via Bluetooth or WiFi. 

“We need to increase food crop production in the world by at least 2.4% every year to meet growing food demands by 2050, and we are nowhere near that rate of genetic gain,” says Shakoor. “These tools are designed to help crop breeders accelerate the gain.”

Her parents are proud of her work, she says, but they wish she’d develop a variety of peach tree that grows easily in the Midwest.

Stay tuned! 

Nadia Shakoor is featured in Successful Farming magazine’s “10 Up & Comers” article running (on page 44) in the June/July 2017 issue.

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