Posts Tagged ‘Jeanie Borlaug Laube Women in Triticum (WIT) Early Career Award’

Celebrating women leadership in fight to end hunger

This story by Matt Hayes was originally published on the Cornell CALS website.

As the world changes rapidly, new leaders are emerging to tackle the biggest challenges in food and agriculture.

“It is such a difficult time worldwide,” said Barbara Stinson, president of the World Food Prize Foundation, speaking at a virtual event May 21 hosted by the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) about the “Changing Face of Leadership and Research in Wheat.” Stinson joined the World Food Prize Foundation in January just as COVID-19 started sweeping across the globe.

“I have been so impressed by how many leaders are stepping forward in support of global partnerships, and how many of them are women,” she said, adding: “I’m truly energized by the next generation of leadership — those of you, all of you, who are so eager to take up the mission of eliminating hunger.”

The BGRI has been a leader in training and recognizing women scientists working in wheat. The May 21 event honored this year’s Women in Triticum (WIT) awardees, and included Stinson’s keynote address and a panel discussion with former WIT winners. The event was the first in a series of planned virtual workshops from the BGRI.

The WIT Early Career Award provides women researchers with the opportunity for additional training, mentorship, and leadership opportunities in wheat science. The WIT Mentor Award recognizes the efforts of men and women who have positively shaped the careers of women working in wheat and demonstrated a commitment to increasing gender parity in agriculture.

Maricelis Acevedo, associate director for science for the Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) project (and herself a 2010 WIT winner), noted that this year’s awardees work across a multidisciplinary span of wheat science, from wheat breeding and pathology, to surveillance, data science and extension, with many disciplines in between.

“The future of wheat science — in fact, the future of the world itself — depends on the work of innovative, enthusiastic researchers,” Acevedo said.

This year’s early career awards went to Anna Backhaus (Germany); Bharati Pandey (India); Yewubdar Ishetu Shewaye (Ethiopia); Paula Silva (Uruguay); and Peipei Zhang (China). The WIT Mentor Award went to Evans Lagudah (Australia). The ceremony featured videos of all the winners speaking about their interest in wheat science and passion for food security issues.

Since 2010, the BGRI has honored 55 women scientists with early-career awards. The mentor award has gone to 10 individuals since it was established in 2011.

Sarah Evanega spoke about launching the WIT awards during her time leading the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW) project from 2008-2016. Evanega, who now leads the Cornell Alliance for Science, said she was so proud to see how each of the winners “has given back as mentors, as thought-leaders in gender in agriculture, as our nations’ top breeders, as mothers, as new faces leading agricultural science.”

Two former WIT winners  — Acevedo and Hale Ann Tufan (2010) — now lead major projects at Cornell. Tufan, co-director for the Gender-responsive Researchers Equipped for Agricultural Transformation (GREAT) program (which is jointly administered by Cornell and Makerere University in Uganda), moderated a panel discussion featuring former WIT winners about the future of wheat research, and the panelists’ aspirations and vision.

During the virtual celebration, Jeannie Borlaug Laube, chair of the BGRI and for whom the awards are named, described her father Norman E. Borlaug as “tenacious in his focus, bold in his ambition and tireless in his pursuit.” Her father’s mission was to deploy the tools of agriculture science to create a world free of hunger and poverty, according to Laube. His efforts launched the Green Revolution and earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. He died in 2009 after spending his career mentoring young scientists and fighting to end hunger.

“My father would be very proud of you all,” she told the awardees. “If he were here, he would tell each of you that you are the future ‘hunger fighters’ who will be called upon to come up with solutions for global hunger and global food security.”

The BGRI is the secretariat for DGGW, an international initiative to improve wheat. DGGW is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and UK aid from the UK government.

Full recording of the event is available on the BGRI’s YouTube page.

Borlaug Global Rust Initiative announces 2020 Women in Triticum prize winners

2020 Women in Triticum Award winners. Graphic: BGRI

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.

More information about the winners can be found at the BGRI website.

Q&A with 2019 WIT awardee Carolina Rivera

Carolina Rivera shakes the hand of Maricelis Acevedo, Associate Director for Science for Cornell University’s Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat Project and WIT mentor, after the announcement of the WIT award winners.

As a native of Obregon, Mexico, Carolina Rivera has a unique connection to the heart of Norman Borlaug’s wheat fields. She is now carrying on Borlaug’s legacy and working with wheat as a wheat physiologist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and data coordinator with the International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP).

Given her talents and passion for wheat research, it is no surprise that Rivera is among this year’s six recipients of the 2019 Jeanie Borlaug Laube Women in Triticum (WIT) Early Career Award. As a young scientist at CIMMYT, she has already worked to identify new traits associated with the optimization of plant morphology aiming to boost grain number and yield.

The Jeanie Borlaug Laube WIT Award provides professional development opportunities for women working in wheat. The review panel responsible for the selection of the candidates at the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI), was impressed by her commitment towards wheat research on an international level and her potential to mentor future women scientists.

Established in 2010, the award is named after Jeanie Borlaug Laube, wheat science advocate and mentor, and daughter of Nobel Laureate Dr. Norman E. Borlaug. As a winner, Rivera is invited to attend a training course at CIMMYT in Obregon, Mexico, in spring 2020 as well as the BGRI 2020 Technical Workshop, to be held in the UK in June 2020. Since the award’s founding, there are now 50 WIT award winners.

The 2019 winners were announced on March 20 during CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program Visitors’ Week in Obregon.

In the following interview, Rivera shares her thoughts about the relevance of the award and her career as a woman in wheat science.

Q: What does receiving the Jeanie Borlaug Laube WIT Award mean to you?

I feel very honored that I was considered for the WIT award, especially after having read the inspiring biographies of former WIT awardees. Receiving this award has encouraged me even more to continue doing what I love while standing strong as a woman in science.

It will is a great honor to receive the award named for Jeanie Borlaug, who is a very active advocate for wheat research. I am also very excited to attend the BGRI Technical Workshop next year, where lead breeders and scientists will update the global wheat community on wheat rust research. I expect to see a good amount of women at the meeting!

Q: When did you first become interested in agriculture?

My first real encounter with agriculture was in 2009 when I joined CIMMYT Obregon as an undergraduate student intern. I am originally from Obregon, so I remember knowing about the presence of CIMMYT, Campo Experimental Norman E. Borlaug (CENEB) and Instituto Nacional de Investigación Forestales Agrícolas y Pecuario (Inifap) in my city but not really understanding the real importance and impact of the research coming from those institutions. After a few months working at CIMMYT, I became very engrossed in my work and visualized myself as a wheat scientist.

Q: Why is it important to you that there is a strong community of women in agriculture?

We know women play a very important role in agriculture in rural communities, but in most cases they do not get the same rights and recognition as men. Therefore, policies — such as land rights — need to be changed and both women and men need to be educated in gender equity. I think the latter factor is more likely to strengthen communities of women, both new and existing, working in agriculture.

In addition, women should participate more in science to show that agricultural research is an area where various ideas and perspectives are necessary. To achieve this in the long run, policies need to look at current social and cultural practices holding back the advancement of women in their careers.

Q: What are you currently working on with CIMMYT and IWYP?

I am a post-doctoral fellow in CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program where I assist in collaborative projects to improve wheat yield potential funded by IWYP. I am also leading the implementation of IWYP’s international research database, helping to develop CIMMYT’s wheat databases in collaboration with the center’s Genetic Resources Program. Apart from research and data management, I am passionate about offering trainings to students and visitors on field phenotyping approaches.

Q: Where do you see yourself in the agriculture world in 10 years?

In 10 years, I see myself as an independent scientist, generating ideas that contribute to delivering wheat varieties with higher yield potential and better tolerance to heat and drought stresses. I also see myself establishing strategies to streamline capacity building for graduate students in Mexico. At that point, I would also like to be contributing to policy changes in education and funding for science in Mexico.

Young women scientists who will galvanize global wheat research

By Laura Strugnell and Mike Listman

Winners of the Jeanie Borlaug Laube Women in Triticum (WIT) Early Career Award pose in front of the statue of the late Nobel Peace laureate, Dr. Norman E. Borlaug. Included in the photo are Amor Yahyaoui, CIMMYT wheat training coordinator (far left), Jeanie Borlaug Laube (center, blue blouse), and Maricelis Acevedo, Associate Director for Science, the Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat Project (to the right of Jeanie Borlaug Laube). Photo: CIMMYT/Mike Listman

CIUDAD OBREGÓN, Mexico (CIMMYT) – As more than 200 wheat science and food specialists from 34 countries gathered in northwestern Mexico to address threats to global nutrition and food security, 9 outstanding young women wheat scientists among them showed that this effort will be strengthened by diversity.

Winners of the Jeanie Borlaug Laube Women in Triticum (WIT) Early Career Award joined an on-going wheat research training course organized by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), 21-23 March.

“As my father used to say, you are the future,” said Jeanie Borlaug Laube, daughter of the late Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, and mentor of many young agricultural scientists. Speaking to the WIT recipients, she said, “You are ahead of the game compared to other scientists your age.”

Established in 2010 as part of the Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) project led by Cornell University, the WIT program has provided professional development opportunities for 44 young women researchers in wheat from more than 20 countries.

The award is given annually to as many as five early science-career women, ranging from advanced undergraduates to recent doctoral graduates and postdoctoral fellows. Selection is based on a scientific abstract and statement of intent, along with evidence of commitment to agricultural development and leadership potential.

Women who will change their professions and the world

Weizhen Liu. Photo: WIT files

Weizhen Liu, a 2017 WIT recipient and postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University, is applying genome-wide association mapping and DNA marker technology to enhance genetic resistance in tetraploid and bread wheat to stripe rust, a major global disease of wheat that is quickly spreading and becoming more virulent.

“I am eager to join and devote myself to improving wheat yields by fighting wheat rusts,” said Liu, who received her bachelors in biotechnology from Nanjing Agricultural University, China, in 2011, and a doctorate from Washington State University in 2016. “Through WIT, I can share my research with other scientists, receive professional feedback, and build international collaboration.”

Mitaly Bansal, a 2016 WIT award winner, currently works as a Research Associate at Punjab Agricultural University, India. She did her PhD research in a collaborative project involving Punjab Agricultural University and the John Innes Centre, UK, to deploy stripe and leaf rust resistance genes from non-progenitor wild wheat in commercial cultivars.

Mitaly Bansal. Photo: WIT files

“I would like to work someday in a position of public policy in India,” said Bansal, who received the Monsanto Beachell-Borlaug scholarship in 2013. “That is where I could have the influence to change things that needed changing.”

Networking in the cradle of wheat’s “Green Revolution”

In addition to joining CIMMYT training for a week, WIT recipients will attend the annual Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) technical workshop, to be held this year in Marrakech, Morocco, from 14 to 17 April, and where the 2018 WIT winners will be announced.

The CIMMYT training sessions took place at the Norman Borlaug Experiment Station (CENEB), an irrigated desert location in Sonora State, northwestern Mexico, and coincided with CIMMYT’s 2018 “Visitors’ Week,” which took place from 19 to 23 March.

An annual gathering organized by the CIMMYT global wheat program at CENEB, Visitors’ Week typically draws hundreds of experts from the worldwide wheat research and development community. Participants share innovations and news on critical issues, such as the rising threat of the rust diseases or changing climates in key wheat farmlands.

Through her interaction with Visitors’ Week peers, Liu said she was impressed by the extensive partnering among experts from so many countries. “I realized that one of the most important things to fight world hunger is collaboration; no one can solve food insecurity, malnutrition, and climate change issues all by himself.”

A strong proponent and practitioner of collaboration, Norman E. Borlaug worked with Sonora farmers in the 1940-50s as part of a joint Rockefeller Foundation-Mexican government program that, among other outputs, generated high-yielding, disease-resistant wheat varieties. After bringing wheat self-sufficiency to Mexico, the varieties were adopted in South Asia and beyond in the 1960-70s, dramatically boosting yields and allowing famine-prone countries to feed their rapidly-expanding populations.

This became known as the Green Revolution and, in 1970, Borlaug received the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his contributions. Borlaug subsequently led CIMMYT wheat research until his retirement in 1979 and served afterwards as a special consultant to the Center.

When a new, highly virulent race of wheat stem rust, Ug99, emerged in eastern Africa in the early 2000s, Borlaug sounded the alarm and championed a global response that grew into the BGRI and associated initiatives such as DGGW.

“This is just a beginning for you, but it doesn’t end here,” said Maricelis Acevedo, a former WIT recipient who went on to become the leader of DGGW. Speaking during the training course, she observed that many WIT awardees come from settings where women often lack access to higher education or the freedom to pursue a career.

“Through WIT activities, including training courses like this and events such as Visitors’ Week and the BGRI workshop,” Acevedo added, “you’ll gain essential knowledge and skills but you’ll also learn leadership and the personal confidence to speak out, as well as the ability to interact one-on-one with leaders in your field and to ask the right questions.”

CIMMYT is the global leader in publicly-funded maize and wheat research and related farming systems. Headquartered near Mexico City, CIMMYT works with hundreds of partners throughout the developing world to sustainably increase the productivity of maize and wheat cropping systems, thus improving global food security and reducing poverty. CIMMYT is a member of the CGIAR System and leads the CGIAR Research Programs on Maize and Wheat and the Excellence in Breeding Platform. The Center receives generous support from national governments, foundations, development banks and other public and private agencies.

Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) under UK aid, the DGGW project aims to strengthen the delivery pipeline for new, disease resistant, climate-resilient wheat varieties and to increase the yields of smallholder wheat farmers.