Saluki Pride: Naoufal Lakhssassi uses genes to help plants resist diseases and improve their seed composition

The SIU System Inventor of the Year Award recognizes innovators who perform exemplary work in the field of technologies, discoveries, innovations, and made outstanding contributions to the SIU system during the past five years. Naoufal Lakhssassi, who uses genes to help plants resist diseases and improve their seed composition and content, fits the bill for such an award, receiving it in September 2022 during the SIU board of trustees meeting.

An associate scientist in the Department of Plant, Soil and Agricultural Systems, Lakhssassi is a molecular physiologist, geneticist, genomicist, and TILLING expert who discovered and cloned novel disease-resistant genes and seed-trait genes using TILLING technology, along with mutation breeding in soybeans. TILLING is a powerful reverse genetics method used in plant sciences which allows the identification of point mutations introduced randomly throughout the whole genome by chemicals.

Lakhssassi also has led several research projects in the area of pharmaceutical compounds derived from food sources with extra human health benefits, seed composition and diseases that affect cropping systems.

Lakhssassi said one of his main goals is to help increasing new freshman enrollment by showing that SIU as a home of excellence at the state, national and international level.

Robert Patino, director of technology transfer for the SIU System, said Lakhssassi published about 40 manuscripts and a book chapter during the last five years, with those publications being cited by other researchers more than 2,200 times in that time period.

“Over the past five years, the Office of Technology Management and Industry Relations has filed 11 patent applications for inventions disclosed by Dr. Lakhssassi, which represents the highest patent prosecution activity of any SIU inventor in that time period,” Patino said. 


Name: Naoufal Lakhssassi

Department/title: Plant Soil and Agricultural Systems Department/Associate Scientist

Years at SIU Carbondale: 10

Give us the elevator pitch for your research job.

During the last 15 years, I have been teaching biotechnology, molecular biology, phytopathology and plant genetics at Malaga University and at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. My research interests lie primarily in the area of molecular physiology, plant genetics, functional genomics, mutational breeding and TILLING. I was mainly involved in research projects related to improving seed composition and diseases that affect cropping systems, using various genomic methods for rapid isolation of genes conferring disease resistance and improving seed composition. These studies have helped us to understand how resistance mechanism is encoded, how plants can fight nematode attack, and in what ways it is deficient. This is in addition to the identification of gene candidates underlying economically important qualities like protein, fatty acid, vitamins, and carbohydrates using TILLING-by-sequencing+ technology.

My research focuses also on cloning genes related to stress tolerance, male spore production, vascular development, and hormonal signaling in the plant model Arabidopsis, a type of cress.

What is the favorite part of your job?

Supervising and mentoring graduate and undergraduate students. I thrive each time they learn something new and succeed at their professional lives. I also enjoy sharing recent discoveries with the scientific community and farmers through meetings, publications, and conferences.

Why did you choose SIU?

I consider SIU as a home of excellence, and I am proud to be part of this great family that promotes diversity, encourages growth and recognizes its employees’ hard work, discoveries, and inventions. Also, the beautiful nature surrounding our campus makes it unique and lovely to everyone.

What are six things you cannot live without?

Family, my work/research, reading articles, sunshine, good friends/colleagues, and exercising. Sport refreshes your mind and body; you feel active, positive, and energized. Maintaining such positive attitude will spread to people surrounding you.

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