Karthika Sriskantharajah, Inaugural Arrell Food Institute Scholar Working with Plant Ag's Jay Subramanian


Karthika Sriskantharajah was born in Jaffna, the fruit crops capital of Sri Lanka and raised in a very rural, agricultural community. Her scientific interest in agriculture and plants has driven her to study agriculture in a more scientific way so she can integrate practical applications with basic science.

During Sriskantharajah’s undergraduate degree at the University of Peradeniya, where she studied the effects of climate change on crop cultivation in different agro-ecological regions of Sri Lanka, she was recognized as the most outstanding student for Crop Science.  Following her undergrad, Sriskantharajah continued in a research career to become a plant scientist.  The project of her first master’s degree involved in the development of a cost effective in vitro conservation protocol to conserve the local germplasms of sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas L.) using tissue culture techniques at Plant Genetic Resource Centre, Sri Lanka.

Sriskantharajah‘s experience in laboratory and field setting, helped her get the prestigious “Monbukagakusho” scholarship in Japan through a Grant-in-Aid for Young Scientists to work at Hiroshima University for a second masters’ program.  Her research focused on identifying rice cultivars that have the natural mechanisms of salt tolerant to withstand salinity stress and resulted in two manuscripts submitted to peer-reviewed journals and several published conference proceedings.  Two years of field and laboratory studies have identified that the mild salinity pretreatment enhances the salt tolerance of rice and she is confident that the identified cultivars might be used in salt-rich environment directly and will also will be a useful germplasm for future breeding.     

Apart from Sriskantharajah’s academic and research accomplishments, three years of professional experience has given her tremendous opportunity for leadership, civic engagement, and made her an integral part for building the livelihoods of more than 10000 farming families who were affected by civil war in Northern Sri Lanka.  She has also had the opportunity to work and extend her knowledge and develop leadership skills in agriculture with international organizations such as Food and Agriculture Organization of UN, Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience Internationals, and several community groups.  The prime objectives of these working projects were to enhance food security and to maintain the sustainable agriculture of the communities through extension services, capacity development, efficient resource utilization, postharvest management, value addition and marketing strategies. 

The prime goal of Sriskantharajah’s PhD study will be to enhance the product quality of fruits to reduce postharvest losses.  These fruit are rich in minerals, antioxidants, flavonoids and glutathione.  However, seasonal high production of these fruits (in Ontario, from July to September), which is associated with the substantial pre and post-harvest losses, has diminished its marketability to local growers.  Therefore, it is vital to control the ripening process to extend the shelf life and enhance the pre and post-harvest quality of these fruit crops, enabling local farmers to sell the fruits for a better price after peak season as well as allowing consumers to purchase them year around. Her PhD project  consists primarily through a comprehensive analysis to extend the market life and quality improvement of products using a plant derived compound hexanal which is known as a strong inhibitor of phospholipase-D (PLD) enzyme that is involved in fruit deterioration.   The outcome of this study will reveal the biochemical and gene regulatory pathways that are regulated by hexanal on the fruit ripening process in nectarines,peaches and other fruits as well.  Also, this study will narrow down the optimal time of application of hexanal to extend the pre and post-harvest shelf life of these fruits, and thus will benefit growers to be able to enhance the quality and quantity of their product for extending the market period, and thus will contribute to food security via the tender fruit industry. 

After completing her postgraduate studies, Sriskantharajah plans to continue to work as an agriculturist contributing to the welfare of all human beings by continuing her research, development and leadership skills.