By Mariah Cox | Bond LSC

Growing up in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, Sanzida Rahman longed for space to grow a garden. She often grew plants and vegetables on small windowsills and the roof of her home, making the most of what little space she had.

From an early age, Rahman, a doctoral student in Walter Gassmann’s lab at Bond LSC, fell in love with agriculture. She remembers visiting her family in a small village of Bangladesh every year and helping her uncles, grandparents and cousins on the farm. 

“I grew up in a country that relies on agriculture for its economy. I always saw my family doing agricultural work and I enjoyed how they did it,” Rahman said. “It always made me feel close to nature.”

She fondly recalls the sound of the rice against threshing drums and how the threshed rice was steamed and spread out for airdrying. She also remembers how joyful it was for her as a child, to pick ripe beans and peas from their family farm.

Rahman chased her dream of studying science and agriculture head-on since the 10th grade. In undergrad, she enjoyed studying entomology, crop ecology, agroforestry, genetics and plant biology and was always open to learning new things. After her undergraduate degree in agriculture from Khulna University Bangladesh, Rahman received ‘VLIR-UOS fellowship’ from the Belgian government to obtain a master’s in biology with a specialization in human ecology from Vrije Universiteit Brussels.

“At that point, I was open to any opportunity and I took it. The things I learned were fun and I loved the experience of studying at the heart of Europe, but I definitely wanted to get back to the agricultural track,” Rahman said.

So, Rahman moved to the United States to receive another master’s at North Dakota State University, this time in plant sciences. There, she was advised by Susie Thompson, a renowned potato breeder to expand her knowledge of plant sciences and narrow down her interest. Now, as a plant stress biology doctoral student, she feels she is finally settling into her field of study.

In the Gassmann lab, Rahman is working on establishing a protocol for agrobacterium-mediated lettuce transformation. Essentially, plant transformation is a scientific approach where DNA from another organism is inserted into the genome of the species of interest, in this case, lettuce. The resulting plant is then transgenic. 

Transgenic plants help the plant research community test hypothesis and improve the characteristics of crops. Some traits include yield, disease resistance, abiotic stress tolerance and nutrient abundance.

In this process of lettuce transformation, Rahman hopes to knock out the Enhanced Disease Susceptibility 1(EDS1) gene in lettuce using CRISPR-Cas9 technology in order to unlock its function in immunity.

“EDS1 is known to be a positive immune regulator for both basal and innate plant immunity, but the actual function of EDS1 and how it essentially contributes to triggering plant immunity is yet to be known. Many studies with Arabidopsis and other model plants have established the fundamentals of plant immunity, however, plants from different clades exhibit distinctly configured immune system. Our lab found that lettuce has a unique immune system compared to other model plants,” Rahman said. “It is important to study EDS1 in different plant systems so that this knowledge can be implemented upon a wide range of species for the improvement of overall plant defense,” Rahman emphasized. 

After her Ph.D., Rahman wants to be a post-doctoral researcher in the field of plant immunity. Beyond that, she wants to be a professor and faculty researcher. 

In her spare time, Rahman still grows vegetables on her small balcony with her husband, sings and paints. She also likes to stay close to her community.

“We don’t need any occasion to celebrate or do anything really. We play board games, sometimes sing and eat our traditional foods and enjoy each other’s company, whenever we are together. We have several community programs held every month so we don’t feel much away from home,” Rahman said. She loves to call her mom and dad every day, keeping a close connection with her family and friends back home. “That’s the most important thing for me outside of my work.”