Borlaug initiative announces global wheat prize winners

Wheat scientists from China, Ethiopia, Germany, India and Uruguay have been honored by the Cornell-based Borlaug Global Rust Initiative as its 2020 cohort of Jeanie Borlaug Laube Women in Triticum (WIT) Early Career awardees.

In addition, a scientist from Australia was recognized with the 2020 WIT Mentor Award. The awards honor next-generation women scientists and mentors who have worked to increase gender parity in agriculture.

The six winners will be celebrated May 21 from 10-11 a.m. at a virtual event, “The Changing Face of Leadership and Research in Wheat.” The event includes a keynote from World Food Prize president Barbara Stinson and a panel discussion with former WIT award winners.

“The future of wheat science depends on innovative, enthusiastic researchers. We are thrilled to honor these incredible scientists,” said Maricelis Acevedo, senior research associate in Cornell’s Department of Global Development, adjunct professor of plant pathology in the School of Integrative Plant Science, and associate director for science of the Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat project.

The WIT Early Career Award provides early career women working in wheat with the opportunity for additional training, mentorship, and leadership opportunities. With this cohort, the BGRI has recognized 55 early career award winners since 2010.

The WIT Mentor Award, first awarded in 2011, recognizes the efforts of men and women who have played a significant role in shaping the careers of women working in wheat and demonstrated a commitment to increasing gender parity in agriculture.

This year’s WIT Early Career Award winners:

Anna Elizabeth Backhaus, from Germany, is a second-year Ph.D. student at the John Innes Centre in the United Kingdom. Her work focuses on the genetic network in control of early spike development in wheat. She has also worked at the Max Planck Institute.

Bharati Pandey, from India, is a scientific officer in the Bioscience Group, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, in Mumbai. Pandey has helped design and develop an Indian wheat database which allows researchers to retrieve information about molecular markers linked to rust-resistance genes.

Yewubdar Ishetu Shewaye, from Ethiopia, works as a wheat breeder for the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research. Her main objectives are to empower the farming community in developing nations in the fight against wheat rust diseases, to reduce production costs for resource-poor farmers and to increase yield.

Paula Silva, from Uruguay, leads part of the disease resistance breeding program at INIA as well as coordinates the Precision Wheat Phenotypic Platform for Wheat Diseases in collaboration with CIMMYT. She has worked on projects aimed at breeding for barley yellow dwarf and blast resistance.

Peipei Zhang, from China, is a researcher at Hebei Agricultural University. For the last decade, her research has focused on wheat rust genetics, specifically on gene discovery and leaf rust resistance in the wheat genome.

This year’s WIT Mentor Award winner:

Evans Lagudah, chief research scientist at CSIRO, Australia, is a fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and an adjunct professor at the University of Sydney. Lagudah’s research is aimed at the rapid translation of new molecular discoveries into practical agriculture in the global grains industry.

The BGRI is an international consortium with the goal of protecting the world’s wheat supplies. Its global network of scientists and farmers work to reduce the world’s vulnerability to fungal rust diseases in wheat and enhance global productivity to withstand future threats to the crop.

Read the full version of this story on the BGRI website.

Linda McCandless is senior associate director for communications for Global Development in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

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