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Alex Ogbonna Wins Borlaug Scholar Award from NAPB

by | Aug 23, 2021

A medium shot of Alex Ogbonna, wearing a long-sleeve reddish shirt, stands behind a lecturn with a big smile.

BTI graduate student Alex Ogbonna gives a special seminar on “Cyanogenesis and Cassava” at Innovative Genomics Institute, University of California, Berkeley, on January 16, 2020.

Boyce Thompson Institute is proud to congratulate Alex Ogbonna for receiving a 2021 Borlaug Scholar Award from the National Association of Plant Breeders (NAPB). Ogbonna is a Cornell University graduate student in Lukas Mueller’s lab at BTI, where he works to leverage genomics to improve cassava, a tropical root crop that is a staple in more than 800 million people’s diets worldwide.

The NAPB Borlaug Scholar program supports future leaders in the plant breeding profession by providing financial support to attend the NAPB Annual Meeting, and by pairing each scholar with a mentor who is committed to their professional development.

“This award means a lot to me, including the recognition of the work we are doing in the lab by colleagues in the field of plant breeding,” Ogbonna said. “And also, as an individual, the award serves as a platform to introduce me to the larger community of plant breeders, thereby expanding my network. I think an individual’s success often depends on the information at their disposal, including the reach of their network.”

Ogbonna notes that he is especially looking forward to working with his mentor, Hannah Senior, who is the managing director of PBS International, a company that manufactures pollination bags and tents for a wide diversity of plant types.

“NAPB is a huge platform for the field and I hope to leverage on the opportunities presented by the mentorship program with Hannah Senior, and also to contribute to NAPB and the field of breeding, including volunteering and helping to mentor future graduate students,” Ogbonna said.

Having grown up on a farm in rural Nigeria, Ogbonna has a personal interest in plant breeding to improve crop development.

“At BTI, I have been able to combine my personal history of farming with my passion to work with plant breeders and develop genomics tools that they can use to improve crops,” says Ogbonna. “For example, we published a paper last year showing that we found some genes in the cassava genome that contribute to the amount of cyanide in the crop’s roots.”

Ogbonna is currently working to functionally validate one of these genes, which encodes the putative cyanogenic glucoside transporter protein, and partners at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Nigeria and the Brazilian Agricultual Research Corporation (Embrapa) in Brazil are working to validate other markers he helped discover.

“I am hopeful that the outputs of my research would contribute to cassava improvement efforts in the tropics and subtropics, especially in the poorest of rural areas in Africa,” he said.

“It is such a pleasure to work with Alex, and this award is well-deserved,” said Mueller, who is also an adjunct professor in Cornell’s School of Integrative Plant Science. “Alex has tremendous technical and scientific skills, but I believe it is his vision for how to improve the world that will make him an enormous success in his future career.”

The award was announced on August 19, at the NAPB 2021 Annual Meeting hosted by Cornell. This year, there were 18 recipients from around the country.

 

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