2019 Women in Triticum award winners announced at CIMMYT visitor week

Samantha Hautea
Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat (DGGW) project’s new cohort of Women in Triticum awardees was announced March 20 at the International Center for Maize and Wheat Improvement (CIMMYT).

The Jeanie Borlaug Laube Women in Triticum (WIT) Awards are comprised of two complementary awards that recognize early career scientists and those who mentor them. The WIT Early Career Award, launched in 2010, aims to provide early career women working in wheat with the opportunity for additional training, mentorship, and leadership opportunities. DGGW is an international initiative to improve wheat that is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and UK aid from the UK government.

“Since 2009, the BGRI has honored 50 young women wheat scientists with the Early Career Award,” said Maricelis Acevedo, director for science of the DGGW. “Building capacity within the scientific community by encouraging and supporting the training of young women scientists has always been one of our key goals. Collectively, these scientists are emerging as leaders across the wheat community.”

For 2019, six winners of this award have been selected:

  • Sanu Arora, from India, is a post-doctoral researcher with Brande Wulff at the John Innes Centre (JIC) in the United Kingdom. In 2015, she completed her PhD with Parveen Chhuneja from Punjab Agricultural University where she characterized the genetic diversity present in Aegilops tauschii and mapped QTLs for grain size and micronutrients concentration. Fascinated by the diversity in progenitors of wheat, she continued her research on Aegilops tauschii in her postdoc, and developed a novel method called AgRenSeq for speed cloning of disease resistance genes from an Ae. tauschii diversity panel. Using this method, she has identified new sources of resistance to various wheat diseases.  She is now implementing this method in different species to clone scores of resistance genes.
  • Sabina Asghar, from Pakistan, completed her M.Sc. Hons. Agriculture with specialization in Plant Breeding and Genetics at the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, and began working as assistant research officer at the Wheat Research Institute at Faisalabad in 2010. For the last six years, Sabina has contributed to the development of high-yielding rust resistant wheat varieties and evaluated breeding material for leaf rust resistance as a continuation of her research during the Borlaug Fellowship Program. Her current research focus is wheat pathology and breeding for durable rust resistance, and understanding the complex interactions between wheat and rusts to devise breeding strategy for managing rusts through genetics.
  • Valentina Klymiuk, from Ukraine, began her scientific career as a PhD candidate in Hydrobiology in Donetsk National University, which she went on to complete at the Institute of Hydrobiology of National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. In parallel to this, she pursued a PhD in Plant Genomics and Host-Parasite Interactions at the University of Haifa (Israel) in the lab of Tzion Fahima, the director of the Institute of Evolution. Her work focused on the cloning of the stripe rust resistance gene Yr15 from wild emmer wheat, which encodes for the Wheat Tandem Kinase 1 (WTK1) protein. She developed high throughput functional molecular markers (FMMs) that facilitate efficient incorporation of Yr15 into modern wheat cultivars in wheat breeding programs. After cloning Yr15, she and other researchers in Fahima’s lab discovered a novel plant protein family involved in plant immunity that may open new venues of research exploring the fundamental concept of diversity of plant defense mechanisms.
  • Carolina Rivera was born in Ciudad Obregon, Mexico. She received her BSc in Biotechnology from Instituto Tecnologico de Sonora (ITSON) and began her career at the CIMMYT Obregon station, where she was exposed to CIMMYT’s global research, history and achievements in ensuring global food security. At the University of Nottingham, her PhD research included novel anatomical stem traits associated with increases in spike partitioning and growth for enhancing grain number, traits associated with the trade-off between increased biomass and harvest index, and the relative contributions of leaf-lamina and leaf-sheath photosynthesis to final grain yield. After her PhD, she returned to Mexico and joined CIMMYT Wheat Physiology. As the IWYP Data Coordinator at CIMMYT, she helped release a new instance of an institutional database called ‘Germinate’ which hosts phenotypic, genotypic and other data on wheat from around the world. She seeks to deploy new technologies to collect field data and develop better systems to standardize, compile and curate field data.
  • Jyoti Saini Sharma hails from India, where she completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biotechnology. During her tenure as a research fellow at Punjab Agricultural University, she worked on genotypic and phenotypic characterization of leaf rust, stripe rust, and powdery mildew resistance genes in wheat. In 2013, she enrolled in the Genomics and Bioinformatics PhD program at North Dakota State University, USA. Her dissertation focused on the genomic characterization of domestication-related traits and stem rust resistance in tetraploid wheat. Currently, Jyoti is part of the Hiebert lab at Morden Research and Development Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), Morden, Canada, where she works on mapping and cloning of stem and leaf rust resistance by using the map-based cloning and MutChromSeq techniques.
  • Fikrte Yirga Belayineh, from Ethiopia, received her BS in Agriculture Plant Science in July 2013, graduating with distinction. After graduation, Fikrte was employed as a junior researcher in plant pathology by the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), based at Kulumsa Agricultural Research Center (KARC). Her MSc work in Plant Pathology in the School of Plant Science at Haramaya University, under the supervision of Dr. Ayele Badebo and supported by the EIAR and DGGW, focused on characterization of Puccinia striiformis f. sp tritici and evaluation of wheat genotypes for their resistance to stripe rust. After earning her masters, Fikrte continued her research work on wheat diseases after joining the Wheat Regional Center of Excellence at Kulumsa Agricultural Research Center.

The WIT Mentor Award, established in 2010 and first awarded in 2011, recognizes the efforts of men and women that have played a significant role in shaping the careers of women working in wheat and have demonstrated a commitment to increasing gender parity in agriculture. This year’s awardee is Ruth Dill-Macky from the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Minnesota.

Dill-Macky’s research program, focused on the diseases of cereal crops, is internationally recognized for work on Fusarium head blight (FHB or scab). Her research has contributed to the efforts to develop best management practices for the control of FHB through examining the effect of host, pathogen and environmental factors on the development of FHB and on the accumulation of Fusarium-associated mycotoxins and the role of crop residues in FHB epidemics. Recently, her research program expanded to include work on bacterial leaf streak of wheat and barley. Dill-Macky’s interests in plant pathology are in the management of plant diseases through the deployment of host resistance, cultural control practices, and plant disease epidemiology. Currently, Ruth serves as the researcher co-chair of the United States Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative (USWBSI) where she provides leadership to a national consortium of wheat and barley research scientists, producers and industry representatives. Ruth has served as a mentor for undergraduate students, graduate students, postdoctoral scientists, and reserchers through her role on the faculty at the University of Minnesota, international research collaborations and her service with the USWBSI.