New ANVS Faculty

Plant Breeder & Geneticist Melinda Yerka


Last September, Plant Breeder and Geneticist Melinda Yerka joined the Department of Agriculture, Nutrition and Veterinary Science and the Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station as an assistant professor.

Yerka works to develop new crop varieties that are more sustainable, nutritious and stress-resistant to make farms more productive and profitable, including in developing countries.

“There are many reasons why some countries lack sufficient food for their people,” she said. “I can help by working with local people to develop crop varieties that improve human and animal nutrition.”

Assistant Professor, Plant Breeder and Geneticist Melinda Yerka

Yerka attributes her passion for her work to a time when she was a young mother and saw a news report about malnourished children in Somalia. The visual contrast between the Somalian children’s health and that of her own children motivated her to return to school and study international agriculture for her bachelor’s degree. In 2011, she received her doctorate in plant breeding and plant genetics from the University of Wisconsin - Madison.

Since then, she has publicly released several varieties of sorghum, a gluten-free cereal and forage crop that originated in Africa. Some of those varieties are being grown internationally, and some are now used by corporations in the food industry, including Kellogg’s and Panera Bread, for cereal and other foods due to a special kind of starch that increases product shelf life. Yerka is in the process of further improving them for use by Nevada and international farmers.

Yerka was attracted to the University of Nevada, Reno because the available resources allow her to be innovative with her research. When she’s not working, Yerka enjoys playing the piano, appreciating art, and hiking and camping in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which also influenced her decision to join the University family.

By Tiffany Kozsan