Borlaug LEAP Alumnus Dr. Samuel Mutiga joined the program as a PhD candidate in the department of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology at Cornell University, where he was mentored by Dr. Rebecca J. Nelson. His thesis focused on understanding the epidemiological and genetic factors that are associated with mycotoxin accumulation in maize. Upon completion of two years of course work at Cornell University, Dr. Mutiga got a placement at Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) – ILRI, Nairobi, where he continued with his thesis research with a co-mentorship of Dr. Jagger Harvey. Through the Cornell – BecA collaboration, Dr. Mutiga's work on the “prevalence of aflatoxin in eastern and western regions of Kenya” set foundation for a bigger aflatoxin project, now termed as “Capacity and Action for Aflatoxin Reduction in Eastern Africa (CAAREA)”. Under CAAREA, BecA in collaboration with Cornell University, Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (ARI), Harvest Choice and CSIRO now has a $2 million funding from AusAID, which has established a modern mycotoxin platform at BecA-Nairobi, among other related research projects.
Dr. Mutiga's LEAP fellowship helped facilitate an analysis of the association between maize kernel structural and chemical composition and colonization of maize by the aflatoxin producing fungi and the subsequent levels of contamination, and to map genes for aflatoxin resistance trait. The fellowship also enabled him travel back to Cornell University where he was able to continue finalizing his manuscript and dissertation writing. He completed his PhD in Plant Pathology in 2014.
Upon graduation, Dr. Mutiga joined Correll lab at the University of Arkansas as a Postdoctoral Research Associate where he has been characterizing a collection of rice blast causing fungi from different rice growing African countries. He hopes to be able to breed plants for more durable blast resistance for the sub-Saharan African region. In addition, Dr. Mutiga is involved in establishment of a biobank which houses the collection of the blast pathogen at BecA-ILRI, for use by African scientists.