Ego sum qui sum

Ego sum qui sum ~ I am who I am
Exodus 3:14

Ego sum qui sum. I am who I love, what I read, what I believe, what I do, what I know, what I want to know and the simple rituals that I follow. I was what I did and part of it carries on on who I am today. Italo Calvino put it better:

Who are we, who is each one of us, if not a combinatoria of experiences, information, books we have read, things imagined?

Luis in Notre Dame Talking with pigeons, Notre-Dame, 2014

Personal

I grew up in Chile, Venezuela and Argentina; studied forest engineering in Chile and did my quantitative genetics Ph.D. in New Zealand. This was followed by six years in Tasmania and have worked in New Zealand for over a decade.

Having lived in and visited many countries, I think globalization is a positive force where I can be a citizen of the world, while still calling New Zealand home. Years of living under dictatorships taught me that one needs to have access to all types of freedom; market freedom without political freedom, or vice versa, is completely pointless.

At some time I wrote Consistency can be good when we are true to our best, but it can be a drag when we want to become better. I have to break now with over six years of “backward compatibility”, which means starting over. This means that i - I can be self-contradictory and ii- this is, some times, a good thing.

I like literature, especially poetry and short stories, although I also enjoy good science fiction and fantasy novels. Some of my favorite authors:

  1. On top of the list come the short stories by Julio Cortázar. I always keep a copy of Historias de cronopios y de famas (Cronopios and famas) nearby. A very short story to whet your appetite: Preamble to the instructions on how to wind a watch.
  2. Jorge Luis Borges, whose intelligent and full of detail stories and essays have accompanied me for almost 30 years. Remember that “To refute him is to become contaminated with unreality” (from The Avatars of the Tortoise, essay). I keep a transcription of The Library of Babel in this site.

Work

In a nutshell: I love mathematics. One can represent almost anything with numbers or mathematical symbols. Luckily, most of my work deals with applications of mathematics and statistics to biological problems.

I am Associate Professor in Tree Breeding and Forest Genetics for the School of Forestry in Christchurch, New Zealand. I also am a consultant working on applied tree breeding and genetics. I teach an elective course on ‘Applied tree breeding’ (FORE436), the tree breeding component of ‘Introduction to silviculture’ (FORE219), half of ‘Regression modelling’ (STAT224) and ‘Trees, Forests and the Environment’ (FORE111, for which I am coordinator).

My main research interests are:

  1. Very early screening of wood properties. Screening-in or screening-out trees at ages 2-3 years. My interest is on the development of cheap phenotypic techniques (to screen thousands of trees), understanding the genetic architecture of physical and mechanical properties in both ‘normal’ and reaction wood, and on the application of neat statistical models to run the analyses. See publications) 24, 27 and 28 for details.
  2. Multivariate analysis of progeny tests, including variance components estimations and prediction of breeding values. This includes analysis of longitudinal data and the genetic control of wood properties. For this I use mosly asreml, asreml-r and MCMCglmm, for the first two the most usable reference—modesty aside—is still the asreml cookbook, while most updates go now to blog posts section of this site. Also see publications 5, 8, 28 and 29 for examples.
  3. Large scale level genetic evaluation (e.g., national level). What are the compromises that we need to accept when working with huge data sets? Currently beavering away on this topic. Publication 29 outlines some of the problems.
  4. Design of breeding strategies, especially on terms of progeny testing. Covered these days mostly in the New Zealand Drylands Forest Initiative work.
  5. Definition of breeding objectives, especially of forest systems with multiple end-products. I am particularly interested in alternative economic approaches for valuing wood quality. See publications 9, 15, 21, 26, 32 and 42 for examples.
  6. System integration, using ASReml, R, Python and whatever else gets the job done.
  7. Combining genetics/breeding with other parts of production systems (e.g. silviculture, growth modeling). Publications 23 and 29 are a start on dealing with this problem.

My first job was with the Chilean Tree Breeding Cooperative based at the Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia. I lived four years in New Zealand while doing my Ph.D. and then moved to Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. There I was leader of the breeding strategies project at the CRC for Sustainable Production Forestry for three years based at the School of Plant Science (University of Tasmania). After that I worked as Forest Biometrician in Forestry Tasmania for another three years. I returned to New Zealand in 2006, where I work at the University of Canterbury.

I have been involved in the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) since 2005 and currently am the Deputy Coordinator of Working Group 2.04.02: Breeding theory and progeny testing).

Field trip in Parque Nacional La Campana Posing in an abandoned bus, Field trip in Parque Nacional La Campana ~1991

Education

I completed my primary and secondary education going through seven schools in three Latin American countries. This was a symptom of the politics and economics of the time rather than of my quality as a student. I swear!

I did my B. For. Sci. degree and got my Forest Engineer title (between 1987-1992) at the School of Forest Sciences], Universidad de Chile, with a thesis analyzing the genetics of early performance of progeny tests of Eucalyptus camaldulensis. I graduated with maximum distinction as the best student of my generation.

Between 1996 and early 2000 I did my PhD in quantitative genetics and tree breeding at Massey University (New Zealand) under the supervision of Prof. Dorian Garrick. My PhD topic was ‘Multiple trait improvement of radiata pine’, which included the analysis of longitudinal data and the development of breeding objectives for radiata pine. My studies were supported by the NZ Ministry of Foreigns Affairs and Trade, and the NZ Forest Research Institute.

My animal breeding pedigree is Dorian Garrick ← Dale van Vleck ← Charles Henderson ← Lanoy Hazel ← Jay Lush. In June 2009 I completed my first pilgrimage to Ames, Iowa, so I am a practicing breeder ;-). In June 2010 I was again in Ames, participating in this fine course.