2018 Women in Triticum Award Winners

Tessa Schneider
Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The BGRI is proud to again honor an outstanding group of women scientists with the 2018 Jeanie Borlaug Laube Women in Triticum Award for early career and for mentoring. The winners received their award at the 2018 BGRI Technical Workshop in Marrakech, Morocco. These well deserving scientists represent the next generation of wheat researchers.


Early Career Awards

Meriem Aoun

Meriem developed a curiosity and passion for wheat on her grandfather’s field and dreamed of a day when she could make difference in the lives of farmers. Meriem got her bachelor degree in agricultural engineering at the Agronomic Institute of Chott Meriem, Tunisia, then completed her Master's in Genetics and Plant Biotechnology at the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania, Greece. She pursued her PhD in Plant Pathology at North Dakota State University (NDSU), USA. Mentored by Dr. Maricelis Acevedo, a former WIT winner, Meriem phenotyped a worldwide collection of durum wheat landraces and breeding lines to several international races of leaf and stem rust pathogens. After earning her PhD in December 2016, Meriem continued her research on durum wheat diseases joining the Durum Wheat Genetics and Breeding Program at NDSU as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow for a year. Working under the supervision of Dr. Elias, she applied both conventional and molecular breeding techniques toward the release of resistant durum varieties to rusts and Fusarium head blight. Meriem recently joined Dr. Rebecca Nelson’s lab at Cornell University to research on maize pathology to mitigate the effects of ear rot pathogens on both crop yield and human health.

Radhika Bartaula

Radhika is a plant geneticist pursing her doctoral studies at the University of New Hampshire under the guidance of Dr. Iago Hale. She is working to unravel the genetic mechanism resistance to the wheat stem rust pathogen in barberry in research supported by the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat and Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat Projects. This project integrates her two main research interest: 1) Developing durable disease resistance strategies based on improved understanding of host - pathogen interactions, and 2) Improving a staple crop by utilizing genetic diversity beyond its traditional primary or secondary genepools. In 2011, Radhika completed her B.Sc. in Agriculture at Tribhuvan University in Nepal. Radhika then worked for two years as a research assistant in the wheat breeding program at the Nepal Agriculture Research Council, where focusing on the improvement and dissemination of rust resistant wheat varieties to farmers, before attending the University of New Hampshire in 2013 to pursue her PhD. Growing up in a farming family in rural Nepal, Radhika saw how her and many other families struggled, she dreamed empowering resource-poor farming communities in developing nations. She is passionate about serving farmers and broader food system as a modern plant breeder and applied plant geneticist.

Sreya Ghosh

Sreya completed her Bachelor in Technology at the National Institute of Technology in Durgapur, India, with a major in Biotechnology in 2015. An internship at the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Cologne, Germany, instilled in Sreya a desire to work in crop science. Currently, she is a PhD candidate working under the guidance of Dr. Brande Wulff at the John Innes Centre (JIC), in the United Kingdom. Her work focuses on understanding and exploiting genes controlling resistance to leaf rust in wheat. Sreya plays a pivotal role in adopting the “speed breeding” protocols established by Dr. Lee Hickey, University of Queensland. Sreya employs speed breeding to rapidly make NIL populations to study the adult plant resistance gene Lr68, in collaboration with Dr. Ravi Singh’s group in CIMMYT, Mexico. Sreya’s PhD is supported by a fellowship from Monsanto’s Beachell - Borlaug International Scholarship Program, the John Innes Centre International Scholarship Scheme, and the 2Blades Foundation. Sreya is optimistic that a collaboration between technologists and traditional breeders in the field will change the face of agriculture and looks forward to it benefitting farmers in in her home country of India.

Raheela Rehman

Raheela is a Ph.D. candidate in Molecular Biology, Genetics and Bioengineering Program of Sabanci University Turkey, under the supervision of Ismail Cakmak. and Levent Ozturk. Upon the completion of her Master’s Degree in Plant Breeding and Genetics she joined the National Agricultural Research Centre, Pakistan as a Scientific Officer in Wheat Breeding Program and since has been involved in different research projects of CIMMYT, ICARDA, and USDA.  While furthering her educational career, Raheela secured international funding from the Government of Turkey under the TUBITAK-BIDEB initiative in 2015. In her doctoral research, she conducts studies to better understand and characterize differences in root absorption and translocation of Zn in wheat and maize plants as well as in various wheat genotypes developed by HarvestPlus with high grain Zn concentrations. She was awarded with the highly prestigious 2017 International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI-2017) Scholar Award on behalf of her significant contributions to the field of wheat research. Her major aim is to contribute to alleviation of chronic micronutrient deficiencies, also known as ‘Hidden Hunger,’ and becoming a symbol of women empowerment in agriculture in her own country and around the world.

Hannah Robinson

Hannah recently completed her PhD in cereal crop genetics at the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation within the University of Queensland. Funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation in Australia, her PhD investigated the plant’s hidden half: roots, and their potential to improve stability of crop production in water-limited environments. As part of this PhD research, Hannah identified that a key gene regulating flowering behaviour also modulates root system architecture in wheat and barley. This discovery revealed one of the first intersections of above-ground gene regulation in the well-characterised flowering pathway with the largely unexplored genetic architecture of plant root development. Recently, Hannah has embarked on the next stage of her career as a Research Scientist with InterGrain. In her new role, Hannah engages with researchers throughout Australia and across the globe to develop research projects aimed at improved wheat and barley production. Hannah is extremely passionate about crop improvement and global food security. She believes our research should be tailored to improving the livelihoods for people in developing as well as developed countries. Hannah is also an avid promotor of engaging young people in agriculture research and takes every opportunity to share her story and experiences with them.


Mentor Award

Urmil Bansal

Dr. Bansal leads in the development and validation of molecular markers linked with rust resistance genes in wheat. She is a Molecular Geneticist at the University of Sydney Plant Breeding Institute (PBI), Cobbitty. She completed PhD in Genetics from the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana, India. Urmil worked as Associate Professor of Genetics in India before joining PBI in a GRDC Australia funded Australian Winter Cereal Molecular Marker Program. She worked extensively on discovery and mapping of new rust resistance genes in wheat. Urmil developed and validated closely linked markers for more than 20 rust resistance genes to facilitate marker-assisted pyramiding in order to achieve durable control of rust diseases in wheat. These marker-tagged sources of rust resistance are being used by wheat breeders worldwide.  Urmil has mentored 29 M.Sc. and Ph.D. students and 16 were females. A majority of her students were from developing countries including South Asia and Africa. Many of the students supervised by Urmil are working in international wheat breeding programs. She also mentored one of the 2014 Women in Triticum (WIT) winner, Dr Naeela Qureshi, and is currently supervising five Ph.D. students. In addition to her Australian collaborations with AgriBio Victoria, CSIRO and various breeding companies, Urmil has wide collaborative network that includes leading laboratories in Switzerland, Czech Republic, USA, UK, India and international wheat breeding centres CIMMYT and ICARDA. Urmil is a prolific writer and she has published more than ninety research papers in leading international journals. Urmil’s efforts on training next generation human resource and enabling technologies to achieve food security through combating rust diseases is highly valued by the Australian and the global wheat community. Urmil’s next goal is to use gene-editing technologies to increase farm-gate returns for wheat growers.