IITA scientist’s intervention enables struggling MSc student to finalize studies

Elias Oyesigye was struggling to finish his studies on time. That was until the collaboration of an IITA scientist with the University professors and the Mozambique’s Ministry of Agriculture that saw him smoothly finalize his research and successfully defend his thesis with high marks. Elias is a Ugandan national on a scholarship through the INTRA-ACP mobility scheme under Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) to study for a Master of Science degree in Crop Protection at Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, Maputo, Mozambique.

All was well with Elias’s studies titled: “Evaluation of selected cassava genotypes for resistance and genetic diversity in relation to Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) in Mozambique” until he came across molecular markers! He wanted to apply markers to identify Mozambican cassava varieties most likely to harbor resistance to the devastating CBSD.

However, there was a shortage of personnel at the University experienced in research on cassava and CBSD―one of the major diseases affecting cassava in East Africa―and in molecular techniques and genotyping. His research and studies seemed stuck with only four months to go before submitting his thesis and his funds were running low.

Oyesigye therefore reached out to his fellow colleagues at Uganda’s National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI), and they put him in touch with Morag Ferguson, IITA’s Crop Molecular Geneticist based in Nairobi, who was more than willing.

Ferguson helped redesign his research objectives in the light of current knowledge of resistance to CBSD in Tanzanian germplasm and to ensure that they would also contribute knowledge to efforts in Mozambique to breed for CBSD-resistant cassava.

Oyesigye’s goal was to genetically fingerprint Mozambican cassava varieties and analyze their similarity to known Tanzanian varieties showing field resistance to CBSD. The Mozambican varieties that showed high levels of similarity to known Tanzanian CBSD resistant germplasm would then be phenotyped for resistance to CBSD as a priority.

He collected Mozambican varieties from farmers and the farmers’ local knowledge, using a questionnaire developed earlier by IITA. He also collected leaf samples using a kit supplied by IITA from Nairobi for DNA extraction. IITA assisted with DNA extraction, and samples were then sent to a service provider in the UK for genotyping together with the DNA extracted from Tanzanian resistant varieties. Once the data was received, Oyesigye travelled to Nairobi to work alongside Ferguson on the data analysis and thesis writing.

On 26 October, Oyesigye successfully defended his thesis, profusely thanking Ferguson for her assistance.

“I don’t know how much I can thank you. You are such a rare gift. You picked me from nowhere, showed me the right direction despite your busy schedule. Your motherly support was highly appreciated. In my constraints—financial, knowledge—you were there for me! …I would want to continue working with you, and once again thank you!” Oyesigye said in an email to Ferguson.

“Elias grasped new ideas very quickly. He could understand the analysis we were doing in relation to the objectives. He showed independent thinking, worked hard, and also wrote well. I thoroughly enjoyed working with Elias and feeding his hungry mind that soaked up new knowledge. I will follow his career path with interest and wish him well for the future,” says Ferguson.

IITA Director for Eastern Africa Victor Manyong commended Morag for her assistance to the student.

Bulletin no. 2352cassavacassava brown streak disease

Communication Office • 4th November 2016

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