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Women in Triticum award winners reflect “diversity and talent”

Women who show significant leadership potential receive the Women of Triticum Award at the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative Conference.

Women of Triticum Award laureates. Cornell/Christopher Knight

SYDNEY, Australia (CIMMYT) — Each year, women dedicated to advancing agricultural development and Triticum cereal grains are recognized for their leadership potential at the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) Workshop and given the opportunity to attend a training program at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).

The most recent recipients of the honor, which is aimed at encouraging the professional development of women in the early stages of their career, are Philomin Juliana from India, Shideh Mojerlou from Iran, Kerri Neugebauer and Kathryn Turner from the United States.

“The diversity and talent of the women that have been chosen this year are truly inspirational,” said Jeanie Borlaug Laube. “They are outstanding and well-deserving of the opportunity.”

The award, formally known as the Jeanie Borlaug Laube Women in Triticum (WIT) Early Career Award, was named after Borlaug Laube, the daughter of the late Nobel Peace Prize laureate Norman Borlaug, a prolific wheat breeder who worked for many years at CIMMYT.

“The award winners are outstanding, their contributions to wheat research are highly valued and they show a vast amount of potential,” said Martin Kropff, CIMMYT’s director general, who delivered a presentation at the awards ceremony on Friday. “We’d like to see many more women involved in wheat and agricultural development. The WIT Award serves to recognize and support those aims.”

Juliana, a Ph.D. candidate at Cornell University, conducts research into wheat breeding and genetics. She implements association mapping and genomic prediction in CIMMYT’s International Bread Wheat Screening Nursery entries in order to evaluate and exploit disease resistant genes.

“I believe women should really take the lead and help solve the problem of hunger and related social issues,” Juliana said, adding that in addition to empowering women to use wheat rust resistant seeds, she wants to help them improve productivity and income levels.

Mojerlou has worked on the faculty of Iran’s Tarbiat Modares University in Tehran since 2014. Her research focuses on the genetics of stem rust resistance in Iranian wheat landraces and non-host resistance of barley to wheat stripe rust.

“The award gives me more confidence,” Mojerlou said. “It tells me I’m in the right position and reassures me that I must continue to do this work in the future.”

Neugebauer, who is currently a Ph.D. student at Kansas State University, believes that by targeting host genes using gene silencing and mutation, durable resistance could be developed that would be difficult for the pathogen to overcome.

“I’m hoping my work makes it easier for farmers to sustain livelihoods and to help provide food for future generations,” she said.

Turner is a post-doctoral researcher at the Land Institute in Kansas where she develops perennial wheat by understanding genomic changes that result from the wide cross between annual wheat and perennial wheatgrass.

“I think rust breeding will continue to be a big part of my career,” Turner said. “I’ve been involved in a lot of good collaborations and I look forward to going to CIMMYT.

The application process for the award, which was established in 2010, is based on the strength of a scientific abstract, a personal essay and letters of recommendation supporting the applicant’s leadership potential.

Photograph by Christopher Knight shows (L to R) Shideh Mojerlou, Philomin Juliana, Kerri Neugebauer and Kathryn Turner.