Former 2013 Borlaug LEAP fellow Lilian Okiro is currently pursuing a PhD in Plant Biotechnology at Egerton University where she works as a Senior Laboratory Technologist. Her dissertation research focuses on potato resistance to bacterial wilt disease as a continuation of her R. solanacearum research.
As a fellow, she worked on her Master's of Science in Biochemistry from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Kenya. Her Masters thesis research aligned well with the priorities of ensuring food security through the use an alternative amplification method that could be used in the field to facilitate plant pathogen detection without specialized equipment hence drastically reducing the cost of testing. Therefore, the assay could easily be adapted by national plant protection organizations and seed programs in developing countries such as Kenya.
During her fellowship, Ms. Okiro spent two months at the Cornell University Agricultural Research Station working with Professor Christine Smart, an expert in vegetable pathology and the molecular basis of plant pathogen interactions. Ms. Okiro took advantage of her time at Cornell University by attending weekly seminars and departmental graduate meetings at the facility and learning from other graduate students and scientists doing their research at the research station.
Dr. Monica Parker, a plant pathologist at the International Potato Center (CIP), served as Ms. Okiro’s CGIAR mentor. She supervised Ms. Okiro's work in the validation of the Loop Mediated isothermal Amplification (LAMP) assay and field sampling portion of her research conducted in Kenya. Dr. Monica provides complementary expertise on potato diseases that will enhance the research results.
Ms. Okiro believes that the Borlaug LEAP fellowship allowed her to enhance her leadership skills by giving her an opportunity to work with scientists at CIP and Cornell. She also feels the fellowship helped improve her personal leadership skills by learning and observing how others in internationally recognized institutions lead, and increased her scientific network. She hopes that her research will, in the end, create an impact by providing a robust and cost effective diagnostic tool that could be employed to detect plant pathogens in the field.