New Faculty Profile: Gurcharn Brar
Not many people consider fungus beautiful, but that is how Gurcharn Brar describes yellow rust (also known as stripe rust). He first noticed it in Grade 12 while visiting his farm in his native country of India, and the yellow-striped leaves were fascinating to him. The very fungus causing yellow rust is a huge economic problem in south Asia.
Brar joined UBC as an Assistant Professor in Plant Science in January 2020. His research specialty is plant pathology, genetics, and breeding. Brar will be investigating disease resistance in plants using his skillset in genetics, breeding, plant imaging, and dissecting the interaction between hostpathogens.
He comes from the University of Saskatchewan where he was most recently a Research Officer. Brar completed his PhD in Plant Science (Wheat Resistance Breeding) in March 2019 at the university. While in Saskatchewan, Brar collaborated with several international organizations and worked on research funded by Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture, Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission, and Western Grains Research Foundation, among others. “I can never leave wheat. I’m in a long-term relationship with wheat,” he says jokingly.
He says B.C. has conditions that enable diseases to proliferate: a conducive, wet climate which is especially what yellow rust fungus likes. He’ll be able to study a wider range of diseases.
In B.C., Brar says the diversity of crops and plants is much greater than that of the prairies. With B.C.’s fruit crops in the Fraser Valley – blueberries, cranberries – and grapes in the B.C. Okanagan, Brar is excited to expand his research program with other UBC faculty members and organizations, while keeping a major focus on cereal grain crops.
He looks forward to studying the genetics of disease resistance, as well as improvements to crop germplasm for sustainable food production. UBC is preparing new plant growth chambers for Brar in the H.R. MacMillan building.
In India, Brar’s family still owns a six-hectare farm in the Punjab region. Brar attended the Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, where he obtained a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture (Honours in Crop Protection) and then travelled to the University Saskatchewan for his master’s and PhD studies in plant science.
While he originally thought he would become a doctor, he changed course after finishing high school. “I decided to study plant diseases, so now I’m what you would call a plant doctor.”