Joint UK-South Africa Workshop on bioinformatics and wheat genomics

Twenty-one early career researchers came together in Worcester South Africa in June 2017 to attend a workshop aimed at addressing the dire need for training in bioinformatics, funded under the Researcher Links scheme offered within the Newton Fund.

The workshop took place over three days and provided a gentle introduction to various bioinformatic tools and practical guidance on career development. It also promoted new relationships between UK and South African scientists. The workshop was organised by Dr. Diane Saunders from the John Innes Centre in the UK and Dr. Renée Prins from the University of the Free State in South Africa.


Congratulations to Mercy Wamalwa who has won an African Women in Agriculture Research and Development (AWARD) fellowship!

Congratulations to Mercy Wamalwa who has won an African Women in Agriculture Research and Development (AWARD) fellowship! During the two year fellowship Mercy will be mentored by Prof. Lenah Nakhone Wati from Egerton University. The fellowship also supports attendance at either a leadership, science or proposal writing workshop to enhance the professional development of the fellow. For more details see her profile and visit

“My passion for plants began during my childhood in the rural western part of Kenya; I used to accompany my mother and grandmother to the field during planting and harvesting time.  Fascinated with plants I decided to study biological sciences. In 2007, I graduated with a Bachelor of Science from Egerton University. I enrolled for a Masters degree in Agronomy (Plant Breeding) in 2009 the same university. In 2010, I met Ms. Ruth Wanyera, a Principal Research Scientist at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, Njoro and also an African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) fellow year 2009. She mentored me and this is the first time I came to hear and know about AWARD. She encouraged me to apply for AWARD which I did, but as much as I was not selected for three consecutive years. In 2014, luck was on my side I won the fellowship, this life changing AWARD. My mentor is Prof. Lenah Nakhone Wati from Egerton University. In the second year of the AWARD I will also mentor young female researcher as part of the AWARD program.

Again through  Ruth’s had work,  I am a beneficiary of  a collaborative research grant with BBSRC under  Sustainable Crop Production Research For International Development (SCPRID) project, ‘Maximizing the potential for sustainable and durable resistance to yellow rust pathogen’. Through the grant I am now enrolled for a PhD at Egerton University.

I hope that the AWARD Fellowship will be an empowering and transformative experience that will have a lasting impact on my career in agriculture research and development, and on the lives of Africa’s smallholder farmers, especially women. I intend to achieve my purpose which is to contribute to the development of rust resistant wheat varieties for small holder farmers in Africa hence increased yields, incomes, resulting to improved livelihoods.”

Introducing our SCPRID-funded PhD students

MitalyMitaly Bansal – PhD Student at Punjab Agricultural University, India

Mitaly graduated with a BSc from Punjab University, before completing an MSc in Biotechnology at Punjab Agricultural University. In 2013 she was awarded a fellowship from the Monsanto Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program to pursue her PhD at PAU. Her research is focused onfine mapping and isolation of the stripe rust resistance gene YrU and the leaf rust resistance gene LrU, both introgressed into wheat from the wild relative Aegilops umbellulata.

DeepikaDeepika Narang – PhD Student at Punjab Agricultural University, India

Deepika’s research focuses on the characterisation and cloning of two genes conditioning stripe rust and leaf rust resistance, respectively, and introgressed into wheat from the wild relative Aegilops variabilis. Deepika obtained a BSc in Biotechnology from Punjab University in 2009, and was awarded a Pioneer Hi-Bred Research International Scholarship in 2010 to pursue an MSc in Biotechnology at Punjab Agricultural University. Prior to starting her PhD she worked for seven months as a Research Fellow in the Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics, Punjab Agricultural University, on marker-assisted selection to breed wheat with resistance to multiple diseases.

sisaySisay Kidane Alemu – PhD Student at Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia; and Associate Researcher at Agricultural Biotechnology Research Laboratory, Holleta, Ethiopia

Sisay has worked for ten years as a researcher inphytopathology and plant breeding/genetics in the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural research. He is currently located at the Agricultural Biotechnology Research Lab in Holleta, where he works on identifying and mapping new sources of resistance to wheat stem and stripe rust. In his PhD he plans to use association mapping to characterise stripe rust resistance in Ethiopian tetraploid wheats. Sisay obtained a BSc in 2003 in Plant Production and Dry Land Farming from Hawassa University, Ethiopia, and an MSc in 2008 in Plant Sciences from Wageningen University, The Netherlands.

MercyMercy Wamalwa – PhD Student at Eggerton University, Kenya

Mercy graduated from Eggerton University with a BSc in Biological Sciences and an MSc in Agronomy (Plant Breeding). Mercy’s PhD research focuses on identifying and characterising new sources of resistance effective against stripe rust. Later, she plans to transfer and pyramid the genes underlying this resistance into well-adapted Kenyan wheat varieties.

Project featured in Nature Biotech

“More than 40 institutes around the world are teaming up to use biotech tools to improve food security in sub-Saharan Africa and India. The Sustainable Crop Production Research for International Development (SCPRID) will provide a total £16 ($25.5) million for 11 projects aimed at developing crops that will resist pests or survive in harsh environments. Each project will include at least one UK-based partner and another from a developing nation. Grants will be funded by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Department for International Development, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and India’s Department of Biotechnology and will be administered by the BBSRC. Geneticist Cristobal Uauy at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, UK, will lead a five-year sequencing project on wheat rust spread and evolution. His team, including collaborators in Kenya, Ethiopia and India, will screen germplasm from the open-access Watkins Landrace Wheat Collection. Uauy’s collaborator, pathologist Ruth Wanyera of the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute in Njoro, aims to develop new rust-resistant wheat varieties adapted to local conditions. Although SCPRID grant holders’ intellectual property resides with their host institutions, which can conduct commercial development, they have agreed to offer BBSRC a royalty-free license to distribute technologies “at reasonable cost to people most in need in developing countries.” Lucas Laursen