Three scientists working on wheat research with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) have been recognized as 2020 recipients of the Clarivate™ Highly Cited Researchers list.
The honor recognizes exceptional research performance demonstrated by the production of multiple papers that rank in the top 1 percent by citations for field and year, according to the Web of Science citation indexing service.
Called a “who’s who” of influential researchers, the list draws on data and analysis performed by bibliometric experts and data scientists at the Institute for Scientific Information™ at Clarivate.
The 2020 CIMMYT honorees include:
Julio Huerta: CIMMYT-seconded wheat breeder and rust geneticist with Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Forestales, Agrícolas y Pecuarias (INIFAP)
The Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) announced its 2020 cohort of Jeanie Borlaug Laube Women in Triticum (WIT) awardees honoring next-generation women scientists and mentors who have worked to increase gender parity in agriculture.
Five women wheat scientists from China, Ethiopia, Germany, India and Uruguay were named WIT Early Career Award winners, and a scientist in Australia was recognized with the 2020 WIT Mentor Award. The winners will be celebrated May 21 from 10-11 a.m. at the virtual event “The Changing Face of Leadership and Research in Wheat.” The event includes a keynote from World Food Prize president Barbara Stinson and a panel discussion with former WIT award winners.
“The future of wheat science depends on innovative, enthusiastic researchers,” said Maricelis Acevedo, associate director for science of the Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) project and faculty member in Cornell University’s Department of Global Development.
“We are thrilled to honor these incredible scientists with a WIT award and continue the tradition of recognizing the next generation of top-notch scientists and the people who mentor them,” she said.
The BGRI is an international consortium based at Cornell with the goal to protect the world’s wheat supplies. The global network of scientists and farmers work to reduce the world’s vulnerability to fungal rust diseases in wheat and enhance global productivity to withstand future threats to the crop.
With this cohort, the BGRI has recognized 55 early career award winners since 2010.
“Building capacity within the scientific community by encouraging and supporting the training of young women scientists has always been one of the BGRI’s key goals,” Acevedo said. “Over the last decade, these scientists have emerged as leaders across the wheat community. We sincerely thank all the mentors who have supported these women’s efforts.”
The WIT Early Career Award provides early career women working in wheat with the opportunity for additional training, mentorship, and leadership opportunities. The WIT Mentor Award, first awarded in 2011, recognizes the efforts of men and women who have played a significant role in shaping the careers of women working in wheat and demonstrated a commitment to increasing gender parity in agriculture.
Five 2020 WIT Early Career Winners
Anna Elizabeth Backhaus, from Germany, has been interested in wheat genetics since she was 12 years old. A second-year PhD student at the John Innes Centre, where she is supervised by Cristobal Uauy and Richard Morris, Backhaus focuses on the genetic network in control of early spike development and trying to understand how developmental decisions are encoded in the wheat genome. As part of her project, she is performing RNA-sequencing on sections of the young wheat spike using single cell technologies, and using this approach to identify genetic networks in control of spikelet number and grain number, two interlinked traits that control final plant yield. She is phenotyping these yield traits in the Watkins collection of about 800 wheat landraces to identify novel genes for spike traits. Backhaus studied plant sciences at the University of East Anglia (Bsc) and University Bonn (Msc). She has also worked at the Max Planck Institute in Cologne and ICARDA.
Bharati Pandey, from India, is working as a scientific officer in the Bioscience Group, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Mumbai, Maharashtra, India. In 2015 she completed her doctoral degree from Birla Institute of Technology. In her doctoral thesis “Structural and functional analysis of wheat genome based on expressed sequence tags in relation to abiotic stress,” she worked on identifying and validating single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers in abiotic stress-responsive genes, and identifying stress-induced microRNAs in wheat. As a Research Fellow at the ICAR-Indian Institute of Wheat and Barley Research Institute (IIWBR), she contributed to wheat genomics research by identifying and analyzing simple sequence repeat dynamics in three different rust fungi: stem, leaf and stripe rust. Pandey was also associated with the development and validation of microsatellite markers for wheat fungal pathogens including Karnal bunt and loose smut. Bharati and her team have designed and developed an Indian wheat database which allow users to retrieve information about molecular markers linked to rust resistance genes.
Yewubdar Ishetu Shewaye, from Ethiopia, works as a wheat breeder for the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), at the Debre Zeit Agricultural Research Center. Her main objectives are to empower the farming community in Ethiopia and other developing nations in the fight against wheat rust diseases, to reduce production costs for resource-poor farmers, and to increase yield. She completed her BS in plant science in 2010 at Madawalabu University, Ethiopia, and her MS at Hawassa University, where she focused on the identification and characterization of stripe rust resistance genes in wheat using conventional and molecular marker approaches. This work involved associating phenotypic data with genotypic data to identify rust resistance genes in wheat genotypes, and identifying diagnostic molecular markers. Shewaye is deeply interested in research areas such as screening and characterizing wheat genotypes for rusts, association mapping for rust resistance, identifying diagnostic markers, understanding the mechanisms of host-pathogen interactions, selecting the best parent combinations for crosses to pyramid resistance genes, and mining wheat germplasm to discover more durable rust resistance genes that will be beneficial to the whole wheat breeding community.
Paula Silva, from Uruguay, received her BS at the School of Science of Universidad de la Républica, and her MS from the School of Agronomy, in Uruguay. Her master’s thesis focused on breeding wheat for adult plant resistance against leaf rust. Her MS advisor, Dr. Silvia Germán, instilled in her a true passion for wheat breeding for disease resistance. She was further mentored at CIMMYT by Dr. Sybil Herrera-Foessel. In 2015, while studying molecular tools for characterizing wheat rust resistance genes at the Plant Breeding Institute of the University of Sydney, Dr. Urmil Bansal encouraged Silva to pursue a PhD, a journey that has led Silva to study genetics at Kansas State University with Jesse Poland. There, she works on breeding for barley yellow dwarf and blast resistance by characterizing wild relatives of wheat to search for novel sources of resistance. In 2019, she was appointed at INIA to lead part of the disease resistance breeding program as well as coordinate the Precision Wheat Phenotypic Platform for Wheat Diseases in collaboration with CIMMYT.
Peipei Zhang, from China, completed her PhD degree in Plant Pathology in 2019 at Hebei Agricultural University, where she acquired her BS and MS degrees, and now works as a researcher. During her PhD from 2018-19, she studied under Dr. Sridhar Bhavani and Professor Caixia Lan in Ravi Singh’s research group in CIMMYT, participating in systematic breeding and research methods. For the last decade, Zhang’s research has focused on wheat rust genetics, specifically on gene discovery and QTL mapping resistance to both leaf rust and stripe rust using bi-parental mapping populations, identification of leaf rust resistance genes in wheat cultivars using genome-wide association mapping, and map-based gene cloning for leaf rust resistance gene. She has identified potentially new genes and the closely linked markers of these genes which can be used in marker assisted selection and wheat breeding. Zhang hopes that she will be able to transform her research outcomes to benefit millions of smallholder farmers in China and other countries to reduce wheat loss due to rust diseases.
The WIT Mentor Award
The 2020 WIT Mentor awardee is Evans Lagudah, a Chief Research Scientist at CSIRO, Australia, a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and an adjunct professor at the University of Sydney. Lagudah’s research interests cover basic studies on the molecular basis of multi-pathogen resistance genes, cloning of cereal immune receptors and genomic analyses/manipulation of targeted disease resistance traits. Among his research highlights are defining the molecular basis of adult plant rust resistance genes which represent novel classes of plant defense genes that function broadly in cereal crops against multiple pathogens. Lagudah operates at the interface between agriculture and fundamental molecular research, and his research ensures the rapid translation of new molecular discoveries into practical agriculture in the global grains industry. Lagudah continues to train and mentor PhD students, postdoctoral researchers and early- and mid-career scientists. He is a regular contributor to the West African Centre for Crop Improvement which trains the next generation of plant breeders in sub-Saharan Africa. He is among the world’s top 1% of most influential scientists as ranked by “Clarivate Analytics Highly Cited Researchers List” which identifies scientists who have demonstrated significant influence during the last decade.
In celebration of International Women’s Day the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) hosted today a graduation ceremony for the first cohort of fellows of the Arab Women Leaders in Agriculture (AWLA) program.
Being the first of its kind, the program is managed by ICBA and is designed to empower women researchers to spearhead positive changes in agriculture and food security while addressing the challenges they face in their careers.
The first cohort included 22 women scientists from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, and Tunisia. They completed a 10-month program from 2019 to 2020, which was delivered through 12 online R&D modules and face-to-face workshops in Tunisia and the UAE.
Speaking at the graduation ceremony, Her Excellency Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Managing Director of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) and Chairperson of ICBA’s Board of Directors, said: “International Women’s Day is an important occasion when we celebrate women and girls around the world and showcase their invaluable contributions to different fields, including science. Unfortunately, women are still underrepresented in research and development around the world, but more so in the Middle East and North Africa. This is despite research showing that gender-balanced teams improve innovation and productivity and that women are critical to innovation. That is why it is great to see how programs like AWLA are creating opportunities for women scientists from across the Middle East and North Africa and equipping them with skills and tools to grow in their careers and make greater contributions in their communities and countries.”
For her part, Dr. Ismahane Elouafi, Director General of ICBA, said: “We are delighted to see the inaugural cohort of AWLA fellows graduating on such a special occasion – International Women’s Day. The AWLA fellowship program was able to open a door of opportunities for 22 Arab women scientists by providing them with soft skills to positively impact their communities and countries.”
“I want to thank the Islamic Development Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, and the International Atomic Energy Agency, for their exceptional support for the program. I would also like to thank the Council for Australian-Arab Relations for supporting the study tour of two AWLA fellows,” Dr. Ismahane Elouafi added.
Dr. Tarifa Alzaabi, Deputy Director General of ICBA, remarked: “As we are celebrating International Women’s Day, it gives me a great pleasure to congratulate all AWLA fellows and commend them for the exceptional dedication they demonstrated during their AWLA journey. AWLA is a unique program that significantly contributed to our efforts to empower women in science and agriculture. AWLA extends the right skills and opportunities to fellows to boost their intellectual collaboration by exchanging ideas, good practices, and stories on how women can make a difference in agriculture. Moreover, the program offers new perspectives on research and leadership to make a positive difference not only in the professional lives of fellows but also towards the prosperity of agriculture across the nations and regions they represent.”
Ms. May Ali Babiker Eltahir, Manager at the Women and Youth Empowerment Division, the Islamic Development Bank, commented: “AWLA, through empowering young Arab women working on food, nutrition and water security issues, has contributed to the pillars of the IsDB Women’s Empowerment Policy, namely improving women’s access to services and resources and promoting women’s agency and participation.”
Mr. Hassan Damluji, Deputy Director at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said: “Empowering women to take up leadership positions in all fields, particularly critical sectors like agriculture and science, is an essential lever towards achieving gender equality globally. AWLA is a wonderful example of partners coming together to deliver concrete solutions that help break down barriers for Arab women researchers”.
“Women make up an important part of the agricultural labor force in MENA, and any solution to the region’s critical food security challenges should ideally be evidence-based and innovative, making use of all talent by being gender-inclusive and by greatly improving cross-border collaboration,” said Mr. Victor Kommerell, Program Manager for the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (CIMMYT, ICARDA, and partners).
“I am confident this cohort of AWLA graduates from 6 countries will have a powerful impact on the future of agriculture in the region,” Mr. Victor Kommerell added.
Dr. Farah Baroudy Mikati, an AWLA fellow from Lebanon, who works as an agricultural engineer at the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute, said: “The spirit of AWLA reminded me about my ambitions and strength, especially after seeing that things like research for impact exist and can succeed. Before AWLA, I used to give less importance to some managerial knowledge, but now I consider it as a priority. In addition, I started learning project proposal writing skills through this program. In general, AWLA made me aim for more even in harsh conditions!”
“During the program, the fellows got the opportunity to learn through interactive online and classroom training, coaching and mentoring, and continuous assessment. The fellows worked on a variety of individual assignments in addition to four team-based capstone projects that connect and translate their learning and impact as the golden thread,” Mr. Ghazi Jawad Al-Jabri, Capacity Building Specialist at ICBA and AWLA Coordinator, said.
AWLA’s long-term goal is to improve food security and nutrition in the region through empowering women researchers and helping them realize their full potential. The program contributes to the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals on Gender Equality (SDG 5), Climate Action (SDG 13), Life on Land (SDG 15), and Partnerships for the Goals (SDG 17).
Hans-Joachim Braun and Alexey Morgunov receive awards and fellowships at annual meeting of crop science peers.
This article by Marcia McNeil was originally posted on the CIMMYT website.
Two scientists working in the world’s leading public wheat breeding program at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) have been recognized with awards and fellowships this week at the annual meeting of the American Society of Agronomy, the Crop Science Society of America, and the Soil Science Society of America.
Hans-Joachim Braun, director of CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program and the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, has been honored with the American Society of Agronomy’s International Agronomy Award.
Alexey Morgunov, CIMMYT principal scientist and head of the Turkey-based International Winter Wheat Improvement Program (IWWIP) received the distinction of Fellow from the Crop Science Society of America. Braun was also distinguished with this fellowship.
Excellence in agronomy
The American Society of Agronomy’s International Agronomy Award recognizes outstanding contributions in research, teaching, extension, or administration made outside of the United States by a current agronomist. Braun received the distinction during an awards ceremony and lecture on November 12, 2019. The award committee made its selection based on criteria including degrees, professional positions, and contributions and service to the profession such as publications, patents, and efforts to develop or improve programs, practices, and products.
The award recognizes Braun’s achievements developing and promoting improved wheat varieties and cropping practices that have benefited hundreds of millions of farmers throughout Central Asia, South Asia and North Africa. Nearly half the world’s wheat lands overall — as well as 70 to 80% of all wheat varieties released in Central Asia, South Asia, West Asia, and North Africa — are derived from the research of CIMMYT and its partners.
“I am honored to be recognized by my fellow agronomists,” Braun said. “This award highlights the importance of international research collaboration, because the food security challenges we face do not stop at national borders.”
Braun began his 36-year CIMMYT career in Mexico in 1983. From 1985 to 2005, he led the International Winter Wheat Improvement Program in Turkey, implemented by CIMMYT and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA). As director of CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program since 2004 and the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat since 2014, he is responsible for the technical direction and implementation of a program that develops and distributes wheat germplasm to more than 200 collaborators in more than 100 countries, grown on over half the spring wheat area in developing countries.
Braun and Morgunov were also chosen as Fellows, the highest recognition bestowed by the Crop Science Society of America. Members of the society nominate worthy colleagues based on their professional achievements and meritorious service. Fellows are a select group: only three out of every 1,000 of the society’s more than 4,000 active and emeritus members receive the honor.
Morgunov joined CIMMYT in 1991 as a spring wheat breeder, working with former Global Wheat Program Director and World Food Prize laureate Sanjaya Rajaram. In 1994, he moved to Turkey to work as winter wheat breeder, and then to Kazakhstan, where he worked to develop and promote new wheat varieties for the Central Asia and the Caucasus region. He has led the International Winter Wheat Improvement Program in Turkey since 2006. In this role, he has been responsible for the release of more than 80 varieties in the region. He also completed a national inventory for wheat landraces in Turkey.
“I am pleased to be recognized as [a Crop Science Society of America] Fellow,” Morgunov said. “I hope this award brings more attention to the importance of finding, saving and using the vast diversity of crop varieties in the world, for resilient crops and healthy food for all.”
Braun and Morgunov were formally recognized as Fellows on November 13.
The annual meeting of the American Society of Agronomy, the Crop Science Society of America, and the Soil Science Society of America convenes around 4,000 scientists, professionals, educators, and students to share knowledge and recognition of achievements in the field. This year’s meeting was held in San Antonio, Texas.
Thomas Payne, head of the Wheat Germplasm Bank at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), was awarded the Frank N. Meyer Medal for Plant Genetic Resources this morning at the annual meeting of the American Society of Agronomy, the Crop Science Society of America, and the Soil Science Society of America in San Antonio, Texas.
The Frank N. Meyer
Medal recognizes contributions to plant germplasm collection and use, as well
as dedication and service to humanity through the collection, evaluation or
conservation of earth’s genetic resources. The award was presented by Clare
Clarice Coyne, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) research geneticist.
As an award recipient, Thomas Payne delivered a lecture that touched on the philosophy, history and culture surrounding plant genetic diversity and its collectors, and CIMMYT’s important role in conserving and sharing crop diversity.
Thomas Payne has focused his career on wheat improvement and conservation. In addition to leading CIMMYT’s Wellhausen-Anderson Wheat Genetic Resources Collection, one of the world’s largest collection of wheat and maize germplasm, he manages the CIMMYT International Wheat Improvement Network. He is the current Chair of the Article 15 Group of CGIAR Genebank Managers, and has served as Secretary to the CIMMYT Board of Trustees. His association with CIMMYT began immediately after obtaining a PhD at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1988, and he has held positions for CIMMYT in Ethiopia, Mexico, Syria, Turkey and Zimbabwe.
“CIMMYT is the largest
distributor of maize and wheat germplasm worldwide, with materials emanating
from its research and breeding programs, as well as held in-trust in the
germplasm bank. The Meyer Medal is a
reflection of the impact CIMMYT makes in the international research community
— and in farmers’ fields throughout the
developing world,” he said.
Located at CIMMYT headquarters outside Mexico City, the CIMMYT Wheat Germplasm Bank contains nearly 150,000 collections of seed of wheat and related species from more than 100 countries. The collections preserve the diversity of unique native varieties and wild relatives of wheat and are held under long-term storage for the benefit of humanity, in accordance with the 2007 International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. They are also studied and used as a source of diversity to breed for crucial traits such as heat and drought tolerance, resistance to crop diseases and pests, grain yield productivity and grain quality. Seed is freely shared on request to researchers, students, and academic and development institutions worldwide.
In his remarks, Thomas Payne also highlighted the story of Frank N. Meyer, for whom the award is named. Meyer, an agricultural explorer for the USDA in the 1900s, spent a decade traveling under harsh conditions through China to collect new plant species suitable for production on America’s expanding farmland. Among more than 2,500 plants that he introduced to the U.S. — including varieties of soybeans, oats, wild pears, and asparagus — the Meyer lemon was named in his honor. As Payne pointed out, Meyer worked during a historical period of great scientific discoveries, including those by his contemporaries Marie Curie and the Wright brothers.
Among those attending the ceremony were Thomas Payne’s sister, Susan Payne and CIMMYT colleagues Kevin Pixley, director of Genetic Resources; Denise Costich, head of the CIMMYT Maize Germplasm Bank; and Alexey Morgunov, head of the Turkey-based International Winter Wheat Improvement Program.
The head of CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program Hans-Joachim Braun and CIMMYT scientist Alexey Morgunov are also receiving honors or awards this week at the annual meeting of the American Society of Agronomy, the Crop Science Society of America, and the Soil Science Society of America. The meeting convenes around 4,000 scientists, professionals, educators, and students to share knowledge and recognition of achievements in the field.
Hale Ann Tufan, a leading advocate for gender equality as a central tenet of crop improvement, has won the 2019 Norman E. Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application.
Tufan is a veteran of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT), serving as assistant wheat breeder at the CIMMYT Winter Wheat Improvement Program in Turkey.
The award, given by the World Food Prize, is the premier recognition for agricultural scientists younger than 40.
Tufan, co-director of Gender-responsive Researchers Equipped for Agricultural Transformation (GREAT) and adjunct assistant professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), was recognized for championing gender-supportive activities within the global agricultural research community. Her advocacy across disciplines has shifted crop improvement and agriculture research to include all people and genders.
“To effectively confront global hunger, all voices must be heard and valued, regardless of gender, age, race, ethnicity and ability,” said Tufan. “Norman Borlaug believed in the power of human ingenuity to solve our greatest challenges, and his dedication reshaped the world. I am humbled to receive this award named in his honor.”
She will receive the award Oct. 16 at a ceremony in Des Moines, Iowa.
By drawing attention to how gender issues can impact crop breeding, Tufan’s work is benefiting men and women farmers and making communities healthier and more productive. The GREAT project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, increases opportunities for equitable participation and the sharing of benefits from agricultural research, and improves outcomes for smallholder female farmers, entrepreneurs and farmer organizations across sub-Saharan Africa. Researchers from 18 countries and 22 institutions have been trained through GREAT courses since 2016.
“Hale is committed to the vision to transform plant breeding globally and especially in African national agricultural research organizations,” said Margaret Mangheni, co-director of the GREAT project and associate professor of agricultural extension education at Makerere University in Uganda. “Under the GREAT project, the drive is to build a critical mass of scientists who are able to conduct gender-responsive research and transform agricultural systems. The GREAT model is innovative, challenging conventional modes of research and gender training – and is Hale’s brainchild.”
Tufan has championed the creation of a more gender-supportive academic, research and work environment. She has emerged as a leading voice for incorporating gender internationally and at Cornell. In March, she received a Cook Award for her work improving the campus climate for women.
“The world is waking up to a long-neglected truth: that global hunger cannot be adequately addressed when gender is ignored,” said Kathryn J. Boor ’80, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of CALS. “Dr. Hale Ann Tufan is a young scientific leader ringing the alarm bell for this cause.”
In 2012, Tufan joined International Programs in CALS to manage the Next Generation Cassava Breeding (NextGen) project. There she designed and led an initiative to reach female smallholder farmers in Uganda and Nigeria to better understand the gender needs and impacts in these communities. Her work with national agricultural research centers in Africa helped to mainstream and prioritize end-user preferences into breeding program design and implementation.
In 2018, she assumed a new role at NextGen, heading up the Survey Division with the aim of identifying traits preferred by farmers to ensure that NextGen cassava breeding is demand-driven and inclusive.
The World Food Prize lauded Tufan for shaping new ways of thinking about agricultural science to create a more equitable society for all.
“By continuing Norman Borlaug’s legacy,” Tufan said, “we can ensure that men, women, boys and girls all equally benefit in the fight to end hunger.”
Research team behind a revolutionary field test for wheat disease wins prestigious BBSRC prize
The research team behind the MARPLE (Mobile And Real-time PLant disEase) diagnostic kit won the international impact category of the annual Innovator of the Year Awards sponsored by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).
The team — Diane Saunders of the John Innes Centre (JIC), Dave Hodson of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and Tadessa Daba of the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) — was presented with the award at a high-profile event at the London Science Museum on 15 May 2019 before an audience of leading figures from the worlds of investment, industry, government, charity and academia, including Chris Skidmore MP, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation.
The BBSRC Innovator of the Year awards, now in their 11th year, recognize and support individuals or teams who have taken discoveries in bioscience and translated them to deliver impact. Reflecting the breadth of research that BBSRC supports, they are awarded in four categories of impact: commercial, societal, international and early career.
As finalists in the international impact category, Saunders, Hodson and Daba were among a select group of 12 finalists competing for the prestigious Innovator of the Year 2019 award. In addition to international recognition, they received a £10,000 award.
“I am delighted that this work has been recognized,” said Hodson. “Wheat rusts are a global threat to agriculture, and to the livelihoods of farmers in developing countries such as Ethiopia. MARPLE diagnostics puts state of the art, rapid diagnostic results in the hands of those best placed to respond: researchers on the ground, local government and farmers.”
MARPLE diagnostics is the first operational system in the world using nanopore sequence technology for rapid diagnostics and surveillance of complex fungal pathogens in the field.
In its initial work in Ethiopia, the suitcase-sized field test kit has positioned the country, among the region’s top wheat producers, as a world leader in pathogen diagnostics and forecasting. Generating results within 48 hours of field sampling, the kit represents a revolution in plant disease diagnostics with far-reaching implications for how plant health threats are identified and tracked into the future.
MARPLE is designed to run at a field site without constant electricity and with the varying temperatures of the field.
“This means we can truly take the lab to the field,” explained Saunders. “Perhaps more importantly though, it means that smaller, less resourced labs can drive their own research without having to rely on a handful of large, well-resourced labs and sophisticated expertise in different countries.”
In a recent interview with JIC, EIAR Director Tadessa Daba said, “We want to see this project being used on the ground, to show farmers and the nation this technology works.”
Development of the MARPLE diagnostic kit was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture Inspire Challenge. Continued support is also provided by the BBSRC Excellence with Impact Award to the John Innes Centre and the Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat project led by Cornell University International Programs that is funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“The dream has become a reality.” These words by Victor Manuel Villalobos Arambula, Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development of Mexico, summed up the sentiment felt among the attendees at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) Global Wheat Program Visitors’ Week in Ciudad Obregon, Sonora.
In support of the contributions to global and local agricultural programs, Villalobos spoke at the week’s field day, or “Dia de Campo,” in front of more than 200 CIMMYT staff and visitors hailing from more than 40 countries on March 20, 2019.
Villalobos recognized the immense work ahead in the realm of food security, but was optimistic that young scientists could carry on the legacy of Norman Borlaug by using the tools and lessons that he left behind. “It is important to multiply our efforts to be able to address and fulfill this tremendous demand on agriculture that we will face in the near future,” he stated.
The annual tour at the Campo Experimental Norman E. Borlaug allows the global wheat community to see new wheat varieties, learn about latest research findings, and hold meetings and discussions to collaborate on future research priorities. Given the diversity of attendees and CIMMYT’s partnerships, it is no surprise that there were several high-level visits to the field day.
The annual tour at the Campo Experimental Norman E. Borlaug allows the global wheat community to see new wheat varieties, learn about latest research findings, and hold meetings and discussions to collaborate on future research priorities.
Given the diversity of attendees and CIMMYT’s partnerships, it is no surprise that there were several high-level visits to the field day.
A high-level delegation from India, including Balwinder Singh Sidhu, commissioner of agriculture for the state of Punjab, AK Singh, deputy director general for agricultural extension at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), and AS Panwar, director of ICAR’s Indian Institute of Farming Systems Research, joined the tour and presentations. All are longtime CIMMYT collaborators on efforts to scale up and disseminate sustainable intensification and climate smart farming practices.
Panwar, who is working with CIMMYT and partners to develop typologies of Indian farming systems to more effectively promote climate smart practices, was particularly interested in the latest progress in biofortification.
“One of the main objectives of farming systems is to meet nutrition of the farming family. And these biofortified varieties can be integrated into farming systems,” he said.
In addition, a delegation from Tunisia, including dignitaries from Tunisia’s National Institute of Field Crops (INGC), signed a memorandum of understanding with CIMMYT officials to promote cooperation in research and development through exchange visits, consultations and joint studies in areas of mutual interest such as the diversification of production systems. INGC, which conducts research and development, training and dissemination of innovation in field crops, is already a strong partner in the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT)’s Precision Phenotyping Platform for Wheat Septoria leaf blight.
WHEAT and Global Wheat Program Director Hans Braun also took the opportunity to honor and thank three departing CIMMYT wheat scientists. Carlos Guzman, head of wheat nutrition and quality, Mohammad Reza Jalal Kamali, CIMMYT country representative in Iran, and Alexey Morgounov, head of the International Winter Wheat Improvement Program received Yaquis, or statues of a Yaqui Indian. The figure of the Yaqui Indian is a Sonoran symbol of beauty and the gifts of the natural world, and the highest recognition given by the Global Wheat Program.
The overarching thread that ran though the Visitor’s Week was that all were in attendance because of their desire to benefit the greater good through wheat science. As retired INIFAP director and Global Wheat Program Yaqui awardee Antonio Gándara said, recalling his parents’ guiding words, “Siempre, si puedes, hacer algo por los demas, porque es la mejor forma de hacer algo por ti. [Always, if you can, do something for others, because it’s the best way to do something for yourself].”
Awla fellowship program aims to help women researchers in agriculture secure leadership roles by encouraging gender-responsive working cultures and creating platforms that showcase their intellect, capability and contribution.
The Awla fellowship program aims
to help women researchers in agriculture to secure leadership roles by
encouraging gender-responsive working cultures and creating platforms to
showcase their intellect, capability and contribution.
Awla’s first cohort will help establish the first R&D forum in the MENA to
address pressing regional agricultural challenges and take part in the region’s
first networking platform for women researchers across agricultural
The call for applications will
lead to the selection of a group of 20 to 30 researchers from Algeria, Egypt,
Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine and Tunisia. The program will be delivered
from two regional hubs – Jordan and Tunisia – over a 10-month period, starting
from 1st June 2019.
Dr. Ismahane Elouafi, Director
General of ICBA, said: “Women-led contributions to agriculture, both on the
farm and in the lab, are essential components of global food security. And our
program is designed to address structural causes of gender inequality and
encourage women to take an active role in future scientific developments and
innovation. Tapping women’s knowledge and potential today will set the world on
course for a more sustainable and food-secure future.”
H.E. Dr. Bandar Hajjar, President
of the IsDB, said: “We are delighted to be partnering in launching this new
program, which is a solid step in making sure no one is left behind. At the
IsDB, we are focused on putting in place the next steps to help achieve gender
parity and the Awla fellowship program is a welcome addition to the number of
high-profile projects we have launched and designed to promote women and
women’s empowerment, along with our IsDB Prize for Women’s Contribution to
Mr. Hassan Damluji, Deputy Director
– Global Policy & Advocacy and Head of Middle East Relations at the Bill
& Melinda Gates Foundation said: “This year’s call to action for International
Women’s Day is to build a gender-balanced world – and that’s precisely what Awla aims to
do for regional agricultural research and development. By
providing female researchers with the resources needed to build their skills
and networks and a platform to be heard, the program aims to address the gender
gap in agricultural R&D and create a more balanced playing field for women
and men. This will improve the quality and impact of agricultural
research in MENA overall, resulting in more solutions to the
region’s most pressing challenges.
“We’re delighted to partner with ICBA and the IsDB on a fellowship
program that will produce a
wave of skilled, empowered and well-connected female researchers. This first
cohort will play a key role in the success and
sustainability of the program, and we encourage all candidates from across the
focus countries to apply.”
Mr. Victor Kommerell, Program
Manager for the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, remarked: “We are excited
to work together with Awla. We have the same interest – building female science
power in the MENA region. Naturally, WHEAT’s focus is on social or natural
sciences research connected to wheat-based systems. Awla is the larger program
and WHEAT can fit right in. Together, we can build critical mass in a few
Empirical evidence indicates that a disproportionately low number
of women work in senior research and leadership positions in the region. The
average share of women researchers across the region stands at 17% – the lowest
in the world. This gap is most visible in the staffing of agricultural research
and extension organizations, despite women making up more than 40% of the labor
force in the sector. This means that policy and investment measures in
agriculture might not be as effective as they could be because they do not
fully reflect gender perspectives.
ICBA developed Awla in 2016 with
support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the IsDB. The program aims
to contribute to the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG)
on gender equality and women’s empowerment by building and enhancing the
capacities of a new generation of Arab women researchers and leaders. By doing
so, Awla aspires to have a positive impact on the SDGs on Climate Action; Life
on Land; and Partnerships for the Goals.
About ICBA The International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) is a unique applied agricultural research center in the world with a focus on marginal areas where an estimated 1.7 billion people live. It identifies, tests and introduces resource-efficient, climate-smart crops and technologies that are best suited to different regions affected by salinity, water scarcity and drought. Through its work, ICBA helps to improve food security and livelihoods for some of the poorest rural communities around the world. www.biosaline.org
About the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy and productive lives. Through collaboration and partnership, the foundation helps fund research and programs to benefit those living in poverty all around the globe. The foundation works with partners in the Middle East to address the needs of the most vulnerable people through investments in disease eradication, emergency relief and agricultural research, as well as providing support to the philanthropic and development aid sectors. https://www.gatesfoundation.org/
About IsDB The Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) Group is one of the world’s largest multilateral development banks that has been working for over 40 years to improve the lives of the communities that it serves by delivering impact at scale. The Bank brings together 57-member countries across four continents touching the lives of 1 in every 5 of the world’s population. Rated AAA by the three major rating agencies of the world, the IsDB Mission is to equip people to drive their own economic and social progress at scale, putting the infrastructure in place to enable them to fulfil their potential. The IsDB builds collaborative partnerships among communities and nations, and work towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by harnessing the power of science, technology and innovation and fostering ethical and sustainable solutions to the world’s greatest development challenges. Over the years, the Islamic Development Bank has evolved from a single entity into a group (IsDB Group) comprising five entities: Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), the Islamic Research and Training Institute (IRTI), the Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector (ICD), the Islamic Corporation for the Insurance of Investment and Export Credit (ICIEC), and the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (ITFC).www.isdb.org
About CGIAR Research Program on Wheat Joining advanced science with field-level research and extension in lower- and middle-income countries, the Agri-Food Systems CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT) works with public and private organizations worldwide to raise the productivity, production and affordable availability of wheat for 2.5 billion resource-poor producers and consumers who depend on the crop as a staple food. WHEAT is led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), with the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) as a primary research partner. Funding for WHEAT comes from CGIAR and national governments, foundations, development banks and other public and private agencies, in particular the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). www.wheat.org
The Inspire Challenge encourages CGIAR partners, universities and others to use big data approaches through innovative pilot projects to advance agricultural research and development. To be named a winner, projects must have real potential for developmental impact, have mobilized underused or misused data, and demonstrate meaningful partnerships with CGIAR and other sector members. Ultimately, the Inspire Challenge looks for novel approaches to inform policies and applications in agriculture and food security.
We sat down with CIMMYT Principal Scientist and rust pathologist Dave Hodson to ask him about the project and its relationship with Big Data for Agriculture.
What is the significance of Big Data to your work? Advances in sequencing technology, and the use of innovative big data approaches on sequence data from thousands of yellow rust isolates, opened the door for Diane Saunders and colleagues at the John Innes Centre in the UK to develop revolutionary, near-real time, mobile pathogen diagnostic techniques using portable palm-sized gene sequencers. The final result being the first operational system in the world using nanopore sequence technology for rapid diagnostics and surveillance of complex fungal pathogens in situ.
How do you see the role of the CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture in your work? Support from the CGIAR Big Data Platform was critical to establish the partnership between John Innes, the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) and CIMMYT and enable piloting and testing of the new MARPLE diagnostic platform in Ethiopia. The choice of Ethiopia to be the first country for initial testing was based on several key factors. Firstly, a strong national partner in EIAR; secondly, the critical importance of wheat and wheat rust diseases in the country. Ethiopia is the largest wheat producer in sub-Saharan Africa, but it is also considered the gateway for new wheat rust strains entering into Africa from Asia. All these factors made Ethiopia the highest priority country to take the lead in testing this revolutionary new and rapid pathogen diagnostics platform.
How did it impact this MARPLE project? The pilot and subsequent scale-up project from the CGIAR Big Data Platform has enabled in-country capacity to be developed, and cutting edge technology for rapid pathogen diagnostics to be deployed in the front-line in the battle against devastating wheat rust diseases. The scientific innovation in developing the MARPLE platform, coupled to the suitability of the technology for developing country partners has now attracted support and interest from other donors. Matching funds were recently obtained for the scale -up phase of MARPLE from the Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat project (implemented by Cornell University and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK Department for International Development). This scale-up phase of the project will see a set of distributed MARPLE hubs established and embedded within the Ethiopian wheat research system – resulting in a sentinel system for the rapid detection of new yellow rust races that is unparalleled anywhere in the world. The scientific breakthrough in developing rapid diagnostics for complex fungal pathogens using nanopore sequencing will permit the development of similar systems for other important fungal diseases in the future.
The MARPLE project was selected as a 2017 winner, with the team receiving 100,000 USD to put their ideas into practice. The team came runners up for the Scale Up award the following year, receiving an additional USD 125,000 for their outstanding ability to demonstrate the project’s proven viability and potential for impact.