Karthika is working toward her PhD, with Dr. Jayasankar Subramanian, focused on enhancing the product quality of tender fruits to reduce postharvest losses using hexanal.
Fruits are considered healthy and required for a balanced diet. However, up to 40% of all picked fruits are wasted due to their perishable nature. In communities where fruit harvesting makes up a sizeable portion of people’s livelihoods, postharvest losses significantly impact the quality and availability of fruits, and subsequently local economies. Having grown up in an agricultural community within the fruit crop capital of Sri Lanka, Karthika has first-hand experience with the impact postharvest losses of fruits have on communities.
Karthika’s Ph.D. research with Arrell Food Institute and the University of Guelph’s Department of Plant Agriculture aims to address this problem by exploring how the application of hexanal – a natural compound that has anti-ageing effects on fruits – can be used to provide farmers and consumers with higher quality tender fruits like nectarines and peaches.
Karthika began her undergraduate studies at the University of Peradeniya, followed by her first master’s degree in Biotechnology at the Plant Genetic Resource Centre, Sri Lanka. After being awarded the Monbukagakusho Scholarship, to study at Hiroshima University she completed her second master’s program in Agriculture. Her previous research ranged from developing a cost-effective in vitro conservation protocol using tissue culture techniques for a local species of sweet potato to identifying rice varieties that have natural mechanisms to withstand salinity stress.
Along with her robust academic experience, Karthika has three years of work experience as a field assistant for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in Sri Lanka. In this position, she worked on a project to provide farmers with the tools and education to produce groundnuts as a cash crop in communities impacted by the Northern Sri Lanka civil war. This project brought increased income to over 10,000 farming families in addition to stimulating local economies.
Karthika collaborated with two graduate students on a venture within an incubator for U of G researchers hoping to bring their agri-food ideas to market. The group of researchers aimed to develop a nutritious and cost-effective product for school lunch programs that also enables farmers to preserve off-grade fruits and vegetables in season. These preserved fruits and vegetables would then enable schools to provide students with nutritious fruits and vegetables in the off-season winter months.
Having seen the impact of her research in her home country, Karthika wanted to continue her research at an institution that is a leader in advancing food security with many opportunities for multidisciplinary research. Karthika has had a rich collaborative research experience with the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre and hopes that her research will contribute to greater food security for farmers in developing countries as she continues her work in academia as an agriculturalist.