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Setting the Stage

Posted Dec. 26, 2012

A former postdoc shares memories and experiences about his transformative time at the Noble Research Institute

Imad Eujayl, Ph.D., examines a sugar beet as part of his research for USDA near Pullman, Wash. Eujayl advanced his career through a postdoctoral fellowship at the Noble Research Institute that began in 2001.

In the summer of 2001, Imad Eujayl, a new Noble Research Institute postdoctoral fellow, could only marvel as he watched his first rodeo. Taking in the barrel races and calf roping, Eujayl had never seen anything quite like this in all his travels. "It was amazing," he said. "I was watching real American cowboys."

On a hot summer evening many years later, Eujayl smiled at the memory as he reflected on his time at the Noble Research Institute, the many memories he made and how a few years in southern Oklahoma prepared him for his future.

Though this was not his first visit to the United States, Eujayl's postdoctoral fellowship at the Noble Research Institute would offer him a chance to live permanently in the United States. An opening in Rouf Mian's lab naturally fit his research focus in genetic markers.

Eujayl received his master's degree in crop science from the University of Gezira in Sudan and his doctorate in molecular genetics from the University of Helsinki in Finland.

"My Ph.D. research was in the development of DNA molecular markers, and this seemed to be the next step," Eujayl said. "The Noble Research Institute's facilities and equipment made a huge impression on me right away. I hit it off quickly with my mentor, Mian, and my experience only got better from there."

Under Mian, Eujayl was given the freedom to design his own experiments and operate in a scientific culture unlike anything he had ever experienced. "While working in other research laboratories at other institutions, I could only imagine an environment where I didn't have to worry about having enough materials or up-to-date equipment," Eujayl said. "At Noble, I was free to focus on what I do best, and that was the science. We were not competing against each other across departments; instead we were collaborating, resulting in a much better scientific product."

At the Noble Research Institute, he worked to develop molecular markers for tall fescue and Medicago truncatula. Comparative mapping with DNA markers can reveal key genetic information, for example, to breed better forage plants. The tedious process required late nights and hard work from Eujayl. He often worked on two or three different experiments at a time, doing analysis work, running PCRs and constructing cDNA libraries.

One of his main goals was to develop a set of transferable molecular markers from Medicago truncatula that would be useful for important crop species, particularly alfalfa. His research found a high level of transferability in those markers that indicated that the markers would be highly useful with alfalfa.

Eujayl's dedication resulted in his work being published twice in peer-reviewed journals while at the Noble Research Institute, setting the stage for many more to come. "Getting your work out there and having it published is vitally important for a post-doctoral fellow," Eujayl said. "It helps you along as you compete for that next research opportunity. What we were able to accomplish paved the way for my future position."

The next step for Eujayl took him to Pullman, Wash., to work for the USDA's Agricultural Research Service. After success there, he went to work for the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C. Finally, Eujayl made it to his current destination, working again for the USDA as a research molecular biologist at the agricultural research station in Kimberly, Idaho, where he works to develop molecular markers to increase the cost-effectiveness and precision of selection for the best trait combinations in sugar beets.

His experiences with the Noble Research Institute, the Ardmore community and his first rodeo have had a lasting impact. Eujayl still enjoys watching live rodeos and has even taken up horseback riding. He also continued his personal and professional connection to Mian after he left the Noble Research Institute. Mian now works for the USDA, where they remain colleagues and friends.

"My time in Ardmore was a wonderful experience," Eujayl said. "For a postdoc, the Noble Research Institute is a great place to do research and advance your career without distractions in a great scientific environment. You get this sense while you are there that everyone is truly on the same team with one focused mission."