Five-in-Five Blog Series: #1 The importance of an inclusive environment in wheat research

“Five in five” profiles of wheat research leaders present areas to address to deliver tangible change for women in global wheat

To mark International Women’s Day, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) Global Wheat Program met with inspiring women in the global wheat research community. In addition to highlighting the work of these leaders in science, breeding and strategy, these conversations identified five key areas to be addressed over the next five years.

Defining these “five-in-five” represents the first step in a movement towards a more diverse, inclusive and productive global wheat community.

Every day this week, WHEAT will publish a blog spotlighting one theme per day, discussed by researchers at CIMMYT and beyond. These conversations between CIMMYT scientists and international partners present a range of perspectives on why improvements in these 5 key areas are so crucial, and a vision for a more equitable wheat research community in 5 years.

The first blog in the series spotlights the importance of diversity in all of its forms. Researchers from CIMMYT, University of Sydney, and the Institute of Plant Biology and Biotechnology in Kazakhstan discuss the importance of mentorship, training, and female role models in achieving greater inclusivity. They highlight the role that a broader talent base can play in promoting adoption and use of new technologies in research and farmers’ fields.    

Naeela Qureshi, an Associate Scientist in rust pathology at CIMMYT asked Urmil Bansal, Senior Research Fellow in Molecular Genetics at the Plant Breeding Institute of the University of Sydney’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences about her thoughts on training a more representative generation of scientists.

Bansal’s research looks at genetically diverse sources of rust resistance and uses molecular markers to tag the most promising ones, so that cereal breeders can integrate the outputs of her research into new wheat lines. Bansal believes that training the next generation of scientists with a philosophy to inspire, collaborate and deliver will lead to a bounty of discoveries, from the laboratory to farmers’ fields. In five years, she imagines new talent will help accelerate adoption of cutting-edge technologies, such as CRISPR/Cas-9, to achieve durable control of actively evolving wheat rust pathogens. In particular, the training and mentoring of the next generation of female wheat scientists will continue to be her passion.

Susanne Dreisigacker, Head of Wheat Molecular Breeding at CIMMYT spoke to Beyhan Akin, a Senior Wheat Breeder leading CIMMYT’s component of the International Winter Wheat Improvement Program (IWWIP) in Turkey.

Akin has over 30 years of experience as a wheat breeder and operates in the unique IWWIP program where breeding materials are advanced, monitored and evaluated across generations in coordination with national researchers. In addition to her breeding role, Akin also coordinates the exchange of spring wheat germplasm from Mexico to Turkey and supports capacity development. In five years, she hopes to see an increased interest by younger generations, especially women, to work in the agriculture and food sector, and more women in senior positions as role models to encourage new talent into wheat breeding and research. As a senior breeder, she would love to share her knowledge and expertise with more junior breeders than the relatively small number she sees today. This is reliant on continued investment to provide opportunities and incentives for early career scientists to join high-quality programs.

Deepmala Sehgal, Wheat Geneticist at CIMMYT spoke to Alma Kokhmetova, Head of the Laboratory of Genetics and Breeding in the Institute of Plant Biology and Biotechnology (IPBB) in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Kokhmetovais an expert in wheat diseases such as tan spot, septoria blotch and various rusts. She has over thirty years of experience characterizing germplasm from CIMMYT–through IWWIP–in order to improve wheat in Kazakhstan. Through collaboration with Sehgal, she was recently able to identify genomic regions associated with tan spot resistance in the Kazakh wheat germplasm, supporting future work that will develop new resistant germplasm. In five years, Kokhmetovawould like to see more young female scientists from developing countries trained in data analysis, a current gap in many regions. She believes this is possible through direct collaborations (such as her link to CIMMYT) or through the development of specific programs to target data analysis and quantitative genetic skills for female scientists. She also believes that the skills of women in the scientific community–such as determination, attention to detail and measured thinking–will greatly benefit all institutions if allowed to shine in leadership roles.

Stay tuned for more profiles and conversations all this week as part of this five-in-five series.


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