Bernice Ngina Waweru joined the Borlaug LEAP fellowship in Spring 2014 while researching stem rust resistance genes in bred wheat. She explains that wheat (Triticum Sp.) is among the most important staples in the world, providing high levels of protein, fiber, starch, and important trace minerals such as zinc and magnesium among others. Kenya is a net importer of wheat, producing only about a third of its total wheat demand, which has been steadily on the rise. The majority of the wheat farmers in Kenya and other African countries are smallholder farmers, who cannot afford use of expensive fungicides to control rust diseases.The best control strategy is the use of resistant varieties, achieved by introgression of identified and effective resistance genes into adopted wheat varieties. Resistant populations were developed in collaboration with her CGIAR mentor Dr. Sridhar Bhavani of CIMMYT, to study resistance to stem rust and to explore for other resistance genes/QTL.
Bernice envisions enhancing the release of superior varieties of wheat through use of technologies like marker-assisted selection, which circumvents breeding cycles, and often leads to reduced costs when effectively implemented. She used her Borlaug LEAP Fellowship to help create successful networks and partnerships with other scientists, and help broaden her scope of knowledge and necessary skills to do future collaborative agricultural research. Her mentors Dr. Anderson of the University of Minnesota, and Dr. Bhavani, currently based at CIMMYT, are both experienced researchers and plant breeders who helped oversee Ms. Waweru’s data collection, analysis, and the synthesis of her findings.
Bernice completed her MSc in Plant Breeding and Biotechnology in 2015 and is currently back in Kenya working at KALRO-Njoro as a research scientist. She is working on the Delivering Genetic Gains in Wheat Project, funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and partners with CIMMYT and Cornell Ubiversity. The project aims to mitigate the threat caused by climate change and develop heat tolerant rust resistant wheat varieties with adaptation to a wide range of environments.