2015 WIT early career awards recognize four young women in wheat

Linda McCandless
Friday, September 18, 2015

Sydney, Australia —  Four young women wheat scientists received the 2015 Jeanie Borlaug Laube Women in Triticum Early Career awards today — Philomin Juliana, Shideh Mojerlou, Kerri Neugebauer, and Kathryn Turner. They joined the 25 other young women in wheat who have received the award since 2010. 

“I know you are all passionate about your work with wheat. I encourage you to stick with being a scientist and pursue your dreams no matter what the challenges,” said Lesley Boyd, head of National Institute of Agricultural Botany International and a 2011 WIT Mentor awardee herself, who made the awards with Jeanie Borlaug Laube.

The Jeanie Borlaug Laube Women in Triticum Awards provide professional development opportunities for women working in wheat during the early stages of their careers and are made by the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative annually to women of any age who have demonstrated leadership potential and a commitment to and passion for agricultural development in Triticum or its relatives.

Brief bios of the 2015 winners and their statements about winning the award follow below.


Philomin Juliana, originally from India, said, “This award fuels my passion for wheat rust research and encourages me to use wheat breeding as a tool to make a difference in the lives of the poorest of the world’s poor. It also boosts my determination to venture out as a courageous woman scientist and be the change that I want to see in the world.” Juliana is a Ph.D. candidate in plant breeding and genetics at Cornell University in Mark Sorrells lab who enthusiastically admits her passion is wheat breeding and genetics.  Philomena’s research involves implementing association mapping and genomic prediction in CIMMYT’s International Bread Wheat Screening Nursery (IBWSN) entries, in order to effectively evaluate and exploit disease resistance genes. Coming from India, Juliana says she feels deeply obligated to play a role in nurturing the food bowl of her nation, to empower farmers to use rust-resistant seeds fortified with the latest genomic breeding technologies. Juliana’s other aspiration is to help women in agriculture improve their productivity and income.

Shideh Mojerlou, from Iran, said, “The award gives me added confidence to continue with my creativity and forward growth within my research. It’s recognition that I am on the right path!” Mojerlou received her Ph.D. in plant pathology from Tarbiat Modares University, Tehran, Iran in 2014, where she has since joined the faculty. Mojerlou is interested in exploring the genetic, cytological and molecular basis of resistance to host and non-host fungi in important crop plants in order to employ the genes to achieve disease resistant cultivars, reduce yield loss and prepare to meet the food needs of a hungry world. Her research foci include the genetics of stem rust resistance in Iranian wheat landraces as well as non-host resistance of barley to wheat stripe rust. Shideh has a keen interest in plant resistance breeding because she believes it is the most cost effective way to protect crops and minimize the risk of epidemics.

Kerri Neugebauer, 2015 WIT awardee
Kerri Neugebauer, USA, said, “I am very honored and humbled to be part of the WIT family. As I finish my degree and move on to the next part of my career, I am going to aspire to the ideals that the WIT award and the Borlaug legacy embodies.” Neugebauer is currently a Ph.D. student at Kansas State University (KS). She was introduced to wheat research as an undergraduate at KS in 2007 by Mike Pumphrey, the 2015 WIT Mentor Awardee, whom Neugebauer credits for “igniting my passion for agriculture that still drives me today.” As a Ph.D. student, Neugebauer focuses on developing resistance to leaf rust by identifying the specific host genes that leaf rust utilizes during infection as well as the host genes that are only utilized by certain races. Kerri believes by targeting host genes using gene silencing and mutation, durable resistance could be obtained that would be challenging for the pathogen to overcome. Kerrie hopes to play a role in making it easier for farmers globally to sustain their livelihoods as well as provide food for future generations.

Kathryn Turner, USA, said, “This award has enabled me to attend the international meeting where I will have the privilege to build relationships, interact, and learn from the leading rust experts in the world.”  Turner is currently a post-doctoral researcher at The Land Institute in Kansas where she first became interested in plant breeding as an intern in 2005. Today, she focuses on developing perennial wheat by understanding the genomic changes that result from the wide cross between annual wheat and perennial wheatgrass. In earning her M.S. and her Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 2012 and 2015, respectively, she worked on characterizing resistance to the Ug99 stem rust race family, Fusarium head blight, identifying durable leaf rust resistance genes in Minnesota varieties and using association mapping to identify novel resistance in wheat accessions.

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