Hussein Shimelis

Hussein Shimelis
University of KwaZulu-Natal | ukzn · School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

PhD Plant Breeding


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Professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), South Africa.  Interested in genetic improvement of crops for yield gains and biotic and abiotic stress tolerance. Mentors a dedicated team of the next generation postgraduate students in Plant Breeding and Crop Science. Published over 300 articles.  He has supervised to graduation 50 PhD and 30 MSc students. He serves as Chair of Crop Science and Deputy Director of the African Center for Crop Improvement at UKZN.
Additional affiliations
August 2019 - January 2021
University of KwaZulu-Natal
  • Professor (Full)
  • Professor and Chair of Crop Science and Deputy Director- African Center for Crop Improvement (ACCI)
January 2016 - July 2019
University of KwaZulu-Natal
  • Chair
  • Professor and Chair of Crop Science and Deputy Director- African Center for Crop Improvement (ACCI)
January 2009 - June 2016
University of KwaZulu-Natal
  • SASRI Chair of Crop Science
January 2000 - September 2003
University of the Free State
Field of study
  • Plant Breeding
August 1994 - February 1996
Wageningen University & Research
Field of study
  • Plant Breeding
September 1988 - December 1991
Haramaya University
Field of study
  • Plant Sciences


Question (1)
Typically exposing plant parts such as seeds, stems, pollen grains etc. to radioactive isotopes (e.g. gamma radiation and x-ray) and chemical mutagens (e.g. ethyl methanesulfonate [EMS]) induce vital mutations for plant breeding programs.
BUT Natural radiation and microgravity in space induce genetic mutations for selection. Below is a summary:
  • Grow plants in the space station to maturity for one or few cycles.
  • Space grown plants are exposed to natural stresses (reduced soil moisture, nutrients, and carbon dioxide during reproduction).
  • This stress is induced by natural cosmic radiation (cosmic rays and effluvia from the sun) and earth’s gravity both enhancing genetic mutations.
  • Seeds harvested from space-grown plants can be grown on Earth to select novel mutants under glasshouse and field conditions for various traits (e.g. tolerance to drought and heat stress, resistance to insect pests and diseases, early maturity, flower colour, plant architecture, reduced plant height, improved gas exchange, better root growth etc.).
  • The new mutant varieties can be bred further or the seed deployed to farmers for commercial production.
Satellite missions and subsequent selections have produced some 200 improved crop varieties in China.
StarLab Oasis, a private organisation, is set up to raise plants in space for this purpose.
It reads like science fiction, but it is a fascinating, optimistic and complementary tool to conventional breeding.
I hope this service will be available for major crops in the near future. I cannot wait to send my seeds to the International Space Station (ISS), and I hope you do too.
The above read is extracted from
Shimelis Hussein
Professor of Plant Breeding
University of KwaZulu-Natal
South Africa


Projects (35)
To contribute to food security in Ethiopia by enhancing wheat productivity in the smallholder farming sector through developing wheat varieties that carry farmer preferred traits and durable stem rust resistance.