Former Borlaug LEAP fellow Francis Asiimwe completed his MSc in Crop Science at Makerere University in Uganda in January 2014. Asiimwe believed that by working with over 100 cultivars of cooking, dessert, and non-edible banana, he could help provide the genetic resources necessary to impart improved resistance to the variety of challenges banana production is facing. His thesis research entitled “Genetic Diversity and Relationships within East African Musa Germplasm”, employed new micro-satellite markers to study the banana genome, and to compare relationships within different cultivars. Food security in Eastern Africa, Asiimwe believes, is dependent on developing banana that tolerant to drought and diseases challenging banana production.
During his Borlaug LEAP fellowship, Asiimwe was mentored by Dr. Norman Ellstrand, a geneticist at the University of California, Riverside, and Dr. Deborah Karamura, at Bioversity International in Uganda. Asiimwe traveled to California to receive hands-on training in his molecular and statistical assessment activities. Asiimwe was also working as a research assistant with the National Agricultural Research Laboratories in Uganda where he was developing in vitro selection techniques for drought and stress tolerance among tissue cultured banana plantlets. He is interested in the genetics and physiology of the banana plant and well as agriculture-based business incubation projects. After graduating, Asiimwe planned to continue studying the drought stress physiology of major staples in order to understand the mechanisms by which these crops withstand unprecedented changes in climate.