Lina Bernaola, PhD Student

Lina Bernaola knee deep in her rice experiment
Lina Bernaola knee deep in her rice experiment

“If you would have asked me during my first year of my PhD, I would have never thought that I would do all the things that I’ve done.”

2019 Friends of Southern IPM Award Recipient

PhD Student Category

Lina Bernaola

Research is an important aspect of agriculture and IPM, as it ensures livelihood of farms and families. In the case of our Friends of Southern IPM PhD recipient, Lina Bernaola, she wants to be sure that her research impacts agriculture in real ways. As a PhD student at Louisiana State University graduating this month (May 2019), Bernaola is continually looking for ways to share knowledge in a way that solves real-world problems. Through outreach, research, and international and extension work, she is significantly influencing the world of agriculture and IPM.

Lina checking rice seedlings in a mycorrhizal experiment in the field in 2017
Checking rice seedlings in a mycorrhizal
experiment in the field in 2017

Bernaola has been working on her dissertation for 5 years and is researching the effects of the symbiotic relationship between soil fungi and the roots of rice plants. Her doctoral research involves investigations on the effect of Arbuscular Myccorrhizal (AM) fungi on rice resistance against insects and pathogens. Rice in Louisiana is attacked by multiple herbivores and pathogens, making this an interesting model for the study of herbivore-plant interactions.

However, very few studies have examined whether AM fungi in rice roots change the resistance of rice to pests. Her results have indicated, for the first time in the United States, that AM fungi colonization reduces the resistance of rice to insects such as the rice water weevil, fall armyworm, and stem-boring lepidoptera as well as a disease pathogen the sheath blight of rice. Also, she found that this effect depends on soil type, and this does not seem to be mitigated by AM fungi-induced changes in plant nutrition.

Lina counting densities of rice water weevil (RWW) larvae and pupae from one of the mycorrhizal rice plots of my field experiments in 2018
Counting densities of rice water weevil (RWW) larvae
and pupae from one of the mycorrhizal rice plots of
her field experiments in 2018

She is wrapping up the last bit of her research by looking at how colonization by AM fungi alters plant defense signaling and expression of resistance-related metabolites. She is especially excited about how this research could impact the rice system regarding “more effective and sustainable strategies to control or reduce pest damage in rice.” In one of her most recent experiments, she has also examined the effect of AMF seed treatments on rice yields and tolerance following herbivore injury; this may have direct applications in rice production.


Lina in the Philippines using a carabao (bull) for land preparation in the field
In the Philippines using a carabao (bull) for land
preparation in the field

Bernaola has done extensive work with collaborators to get the most robust and comprehensive research possible. For example, she collaborated with other rice entomologists from different universities in the United States such as Texas A&M, University of Arkansas, and Mississippi State. This collaboration resulted in the publication of one of her dissertation chapters.

Her curiosity of the differences in rice production led to an international trip to many places, such as the Philippines. She was able to talk to the locals about their rice production and the different pests that they manage. Through this way of studying, not only was Bernaola able to see more sustainable ways of managing the aforementioned pests, but she was also able to understand the potential impact of the work that she was doing. As if that wasn’t thorough enough, Bernaola also took a trip to a rice institute in Malaysia.  She adds,

“I see so many smart people heavily invested in only their research that, when they finish their PhD, they don’t know that there are options beyond academic research, such as industry. I didn’t want that for me, because I wanted to explore as many options as possible.”

Lina teaching children at Ag Magic
Teaching children at Ag Magic
Outside of her research, Bernaola works hard to make sure that she is impacting the next generation of agriculturalists through outreach events, such as LSU’s Ag Magic. In this event, children explore the role that agriculture plays in their daily lives through an interactive and visually stimulating, educational journey. Again, with the goal of going beyond her research, this annual event explores things like culture and why insects are important. While she loves working with children, she also likes hearing the types and volumes of questions that people are asking about agriculture to keep her research simple, grounded, and motivated.

As graduation approaches, Bernaola will continue to make waves in the agriculture community. She wants to use laboratory and field research to study the molecular, biochemical, and physiological basis of plant-mediated insect interactions and beneficial microorganisms to manage plant pests in the field. She wishes to contribute to developing insect pest management strategies that will allow the production of high-yielding and high-quality crops to help fight poverty and hunger. Ultimately, she has learned to pursue “science with patience” in order to obtain the most precise research results.

Each year, the Southern IPM Center recognizes graduate students with extraordinary potential to contribute to the development and implementation of research, extension, or implementation of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in the Southern Region of the United States. The RFA for next year’s nominations will be released in Fall of 2019. For more information about this award, other recipients, and other projects,  click here..