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2019 OWSD Early Career Fellows Announced

August 06, 2019

Twenty women scientists will receive research grants under the second year of the OWSD Early Career fellowship programme.

Twenty women scientists from the developing world have been selected as part of the second cohort of the OWSD Early Career fellowship programme. These scientists will receive up to USD 50,000 to lead research projects at their home institutes, and to build up research groups that will attract international visitors. Funding for the fellowship is generously provided by Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC). 

The Early Career fellows were selected from a highly competitive pool of candidates based on the strength of their research proposals and their proven scientific excellence as well as leadership skills. They come from 14 countries across Africa, the Asia-Pacific region, and Latin America and the Caribbean, and include a computer scientist from Tanzania building an app to help farmers diagnose poultry diseases through deep learning technology,  a biologist from Laos trying to catalog and preserve the diversity of reptiles and amphibians in her country, and a biologist from Guatemala harnessing the natural detoxification properties of aquatic plants to filter harmful contaminants from lakes.

Meet all the 2019 Early Career fellows below. 

L-R: Mercy BaduPradeepa Bandaranayake, Salifou Chakirath Folakè ArikèEunice EnríquezNasrin Sultana Juyena

L-R: Dina Zawadi Machuve, Edem Mahu, Ossénatou Mamadou, Priscilla Kolibea ManteNatalia Montellano Duran

L-R: Winfred Mueni Mulwa, Ritah Nakayinga, Cécile Harmonie Otoidobiga, Mavis Owureku-AsarePrativa Pandey

L-R: Somphouthone Phimmachak, Tista Prasai Joshi, Volatsara Baholy RahetlahClaudia Suseth Romero Oliva de HirschmeierNewayemedhin Tegegne

 


Mercy Badu
Ghana
 
Senior Lecturer,
Department of Chemistry,
Kwami Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST)
 

Chemical sciences

She focuses on harnessing underutilized, non-traditional oilseeds for incorporation into food and other industrial products. Micronutrients in oilseeds and nuts can be used as food to reduce hunger and malnutrition in poor rural communities. The aim of Dr. Badu's research is to identify and characterize these micronutrients as well as macronutrients, anti-nutritional factors and medicinal properties of the oilseeds.  Once the potential of the identified oilseeds and nuts has been established, farmers can begin to cultivate these plants to ensure their continuous availability and earn greater income.  


Pradeepa Bandaranayake
Sri Lanka
 
Senior Lecturer/Director,
Agricultural Biotechnology Centre, Faculty of Agriculture,
University of Peradeniya
 

Agricultural sciences

Her research focuses on using biotechnology and the Internet of Things to monitor and improve tomato crop productivity in Sri Lanka. The Internet of Things (Iot) is widely used in agricultural systems in the developed world to monitor crop growth and inform fertilizer selection and irrigation planning; however, the high cost of importing and validating these technologies has made it difficult to perform large-scale studies in developing countries. Dr. Bandaranayake will develop low-cost, low-energy IoT solutions to compare crop performances and relative gene expression in field, semi-controlled and fully controlled greenhouse conditions in parallel, providing crop breeders with knowledge needed to cultivate new tomato varieties under varying conditions. 


Salifou Chakirath Folakè Arikè
Benin
 
Lecturer and Researcher,
Department of Animal and Health Production,
Ecole Polytechnique de l’Université d’Abomey-Calavi
 

Agricultural sciences

She focuses on establishing best practices in smokehouses in order to enhance the quality and safety of smoked fish in West Africa. Traditional or semi-traditional smokehouses often use cardboard or, increasingly, plastic bags as fuels, which leads to high amounts of carcinogenic Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon (PAH) in smoked fish, as well as causes breathing and visual difficulties in fish smokers, who are predominantly women. Dr. Chakirath Folakè Arikè studies the use of widely available alternative fuels such as orange and mango peels and rice husks, which can contribute to protecting the environment as well as the health of the workers, reduce the time and cost involved with smoking the fish, and improve the safety and quality of the fish for consumers.


Eunice Enríquez
Guatemala
 
Professor,
Center for Conservationist Studies, Faculty of Chemical Sciences and Pharmacy,
San Carlos University of Guatemala
 

Biological systems and organisms

Her research focuses on characterizing the effect of bee pollination on coffee and macadamia nut crops in Private Natural Resources (PNR) agroecosystems in Guatemala. These PNRs typically combine conservation of forested areas with agricultural activities and ecotourism as a source of income. Many crops commonly grown in PNRs are highly dependent on pollination, including coffee, macadamia nuts, avocado, cardamom, and cacao. Though her research, Dr. Enríquez hopes to obtain a better understanding of the bee diversity associated with coffee and macadamia nuts, to identify the main pollinator of the two crops and its contribution to fruit production, and to understand the effects of natural forests on nearby fruit crops that depend on pollination. With improved knowledge, farmers could be encouraged to improve the agroecological management of crops in order to better favor the pollinators. 


Nasrin Sultana Juyena
Bangladesh
 
Professor,
Department of Surgery and Obstetrics, Faculty of Veterinary Science,
Bangladesh Agricultural University
 

Agricultural sciences

Her research focuses on the sustainable and cost-effective production of high-yield dairy cattle from native Bangladeshi breeds, using vitrified embryo transfer. She uses the process of vitrification, a fast cryopreservation technique that can be performed without inducing estrus in female cows, together with the semen of high-yielding sires to produce in-vivo embryos in high-yielding females. This leads to the birth of calves with higher genetic reproductive potential. This practice of assisted reproductive technology (ART) can help primarily women cattle farmers to improve their production and ultimately economic status. 


Dina Zawadi Machuve
Tanzania
 
Lecturer,
School of Computational and Communication Science and Engineering,
Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology
 

Computing and information technology

She is developing a diagnostics tool based on deep learning that can provide early detection of three primary poultry diseases: Coccidiosis, Salmonellosis, and Newcastle disease, and that can be used on a mobile phone. These three poultry diseases can have mortality rates of up to 100%, and some are zoonotic (can spread to humans). The collective impact of the diseases on food security in Africa, which has 10% of the global poultry population, is very large. By allowing for earlier diagnosis of the diseases, Dr. Machuve hopes to enable small- and medium-sized poultry farmers in Tanzania to limit the spread of the diseases and thereby to increase productivity and profit. 


Edem Mahu
Ghana
 
Lecturer,
Department of Marine and Fisheries Science,
University of Ghana
 

Chemical sciences

Her research seeks to reduce the spread of nutrients from fertilized farmlands into lagoons and other coastal environments, through the development of easily accessible, cheap and user-friendly soil nutrient testing kits based on Android/interactive voice response (IVR) technology that can be used to limit excessive use of fertilizers. Nutrients such as phosphates and nitrates can be beneficial to aquatic ecosystem productivity; however, over a certain threshold, they can cause adverse effects such as algal blooms, creation of low oxygen zones, and acidification of bottom water that can lead to impaired water quality and loss of biodiversity. Dr. Mahu aims to providing farmers in agricultural zones near coastal lagoons with the soil nutrient testing kits, train them in the use of the kits, and design a routine water quality monitoring programme for Ghanaian lagoons as part of a comprehensive project to preserve the lagoon ecosystems. 


Ossénatou Mamadou
Benin
 
Assistant Professor,
Department of Physics
Institut de Mathématiques et de Sciences Physiques (IMSP)
 

Astronomy, space and earth sciences

Her research aims to identify significant determiners of climate in West Africa, by studying the flux of energy, water vapor and carbon dioxide exchange between the land surface and the atmosphere for various patterns of land use/land cover (LULC). Water vapor flux (evapotranspiration) is a key variable of water resource management in semi-arid regions; understanding the long-term variability of these exchanges will therefore help to identify the potential implications of changes in LULC for water resource availability and atmospheric changes in West Africa. Evaluation of the carbon balance will also be useful for the implementation of climate mitigation strategies. 


Priscilla Kolibea Mante
Ghana
 
Senior Lecturer,
Department of Pharmacology,
Kwami Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST)
 

Medical and health sciences

She focuses on identifying microRNA biomarkers of epilepsy in Ghanaian epilepsy patients. Her research aims to provide genomic data for management of epilepsy patients in Ghana as well as promote accuracy of epilepsy diagnosis. Currently, proper epilepsy diagnosis is dependent on expensive methods such as electroencephalography (EEG) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) which may be unaffordable to epileptic patients in developing countries or may sometimes be completely absent. Establishment of definitive epilepsy-associated biomarkers which can be accurately detected using portable and easy-to-use diagnostic methods would be a relief for such patients. The study will further apply these microRNA biomarkers in predicting drug-resistant epilepsy in patients.


Natalia Montellano Duran
Bolivia
 
Professor,
Biotechnology Career Laboratory,
Universidad Católica Boliviana - Santa Cruz
 

Biological systems and organisms

Her research focuses on identifying bioactive molecules in tropical fruits in order to understand their capabilities as functional foods (foods that produce a specific physiological response in the body). She studies and catalogs the nutrient content of the fruits, including proteins, biomacromolecules (biomolecules with high molecular weights), carbohydrates, lipids, ash, fibre, moisture, and vitamins, as well as their morphology and physical characteristics (texture, color, sensory characteristics, microstructure), physicochemical properties, and biological activities (active molecules, antibacterial properties, antioxidant capacities). By providing a better understanding of these fruits as functional foods with nutritional benefits and bioactive compounds, Dr. Montellano Duran hopes to reduce the incidence of common diseases in the region and help indigenous Bolivian fruit farmers to be able to better market their products.


Winfred Mueni Mulwa
Kenya
 
Lecturer,
Department of Physics,
Egerton University
 

Physics

Her research focuses on magnetic refrigeration. Traditional vapor-compression cooling technologies emit high levels of carbon dioxide and rely on the use of harmful, ozone-depleting coolant gases. Magnetic refrigeration, which depends on the magnetocaloric effect, has in comparison a higher cooling efficiency, lower energy consumption, and is more compact and environmentally friendly. This type of refrigeration has been successfully used in refrigerators to achieve exceptionally low temperatures. The research into magnetic refrigeration has led to the discovery of magnetic materials with exceptional temperature changes when they are adiabatically magnetized around room temperature. 


Ritah Nakayinga
Uganda
 
Lecturer,
Department of Biological Sciences,
Kyambogo University
 

Biological systems and organisms

Her research focuses on the biological control of the banana bacteria wilt (BBW) disease, which can cause losses of up to 80% of banana food crops; this has devastating effects on food security in Uganda, where bananas are a staple crop and provide up to 25% of daily caloric intake. Banana bacteria wilt is caused by the Xanthomonas campestris pathovar Musacearum (Xcm) bacteria. Current management practices are ineffective at alleviating the problem. Dr. Nakayinga is developing a new method of control using pathogenic bacteriophages, viruses that can infect and destroy the Xcm bacteria. Her project involves isolating candidate bacteriophages from soil, sap, and sewage, characterizing them and identifying effective delivery methods. This will improve the banana yield and overall food security in Uganda, as well as household incomes of banana farmers.


Cécile Harmonie Otoidobiga
Burkina Faso
 
Lecturer,
Research and Training Unit, Faculty of Sciences and Technologies
Université Norbert Zongo
 

Agricultural sciences

Her research focuses on the control of iron and sulfide toxicities in lowland rice crops, through cultivation of iron-reducing bacteria (IRB), sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB), and iron-oxidizing bacteria (IOB). Iron and sulfide toxicities can cause anywhere between 10% and 100% crop losses, which impacts heavily on food security in Africa and in Burkina Faso in particular. Dr. Otoidobiga will isolate and sequence IRB, SRB and IOB from farmland soil in order to characterize the activity of different types of bacteria; together with this improved understanding, she will use an integrative approach to controlling toxicity which also involves improved water management, proper methods of fertilization and selection of appropriate rice varietals. 


Mavis Owureku-Asare
Ghana
 
Senior Research Scientist/Centre Manager, 
Radiation Technology Centre - Biotechnology and Nuclear Agriculture Research Institute
Ghana Atomic Energy Commission
 

Agricultural sciences

She is developing new solar drying technologies that can be used to process, add value to, and extend the shelf life of tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables. High post-harvest losses (up to 50%) are incurred along the tomato value chain in Ghana because of the absence of facilities to store, process and extend the tomatoes' shelf life. Ghana does not have an effective processing mechanism for tomatoes, largely owing to the cost of production, and currently relies on importing a large amount of tomato products, in particular tomato paste. Dr. Owureku-Asare hopes that her research on various types of solar drying methods will lead to an affordable and sustainable commercial processing method to produce tomato puree and reduce the reliance on imported tomato paste and other products, that can eventually be applied to other food products as well. 


Prativa Pandey
Nepal
 
Research scientist,
Department of Biodiversity and Natural Products,
Research Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology (RIBB)
 

Chemical sciences

Her research produces useful bioactive compounds from citrus fruit waste – abundantly available in Nepal – by way of green extraction and solid-state fermentation methods. Fruit and vegetable waste is a serious problem in Nepal, where it is dumped into landfills and water bodies and produces toxic greenhouse gases and health hazards. Citrus fruits make up nearly 37% of total fruit production, and 10-15% of them are wasted. By developing sustainable extraction techniques to be used on the fruits, Dr. Pandey will produce bioactive compounds that can be utilized as key functional ingredients in nutraceuticals (food or components of food that provide medical or health benfits), preservatives, and cosmetic products, thereby reducing food waste while alleviating adverse environmental effects. 


Somphouthone Phimmachak
Lao People's Democratic Republic
 
Lecturer and Researcher,
Department of Biology, Faculty of Natural Sciences,
National University of Lao
 

Biological systems and organisms

She focuses on the conservation of biodiversity, in particular of amphibians and reptiles, in Laos, through genetic sequencing and classification of various species. Laos contains high biodiversity that is threatened by habitat destruction and over-exploitation of resources for food, medicine, and the international pet trade. Amphibians and reptiles remain the least-known group of vertebrates in Laos, and categorizing them is difficult as the country lacks the capacity to utilize DNA sequencing tools to identify and describe species. Dr. Phimmachak's research project will survey the amphibian and reptile species across different habitats of Laos, and will establish a basic DNA research facility in the country.


Tista Prasai Joshi
Nepal
 
Scientific Officer,
Environment and Climate Study Laboratory, Faculty of Science,
Nepal Academy of Science and Technology
 

Engineering sciences

Her research project aims to prepare, characterize and apply iron-manganese based adsorbents for efficient removal of methylated arsenic from water. Approximately 100 million people in rural Asia are affected by exposure to arsenic in drinking water and in the food supply, largely through applicaton of common herbicides and pesticides. Adsorbents, which are a safe and economical method of water purification, have been commonly used to remove inorganic arsenic compounds but have not yet become widely effectively used for organic arsenic compounds. Through developing low-cost iron-manganese based adsorbents, Dr. Prasai Joshi expects to implement improved water purification techniques in small communities as well as large-scale industrial treatment systems.


Volatsara Baholy Rahetlah 
Madagascar
 
Professor,
Department of Agroecology, Biodiversity and Climate change,
Ecole Supérieure des Sciences Agronomiques
 

Agricultural sciences

Her research focuses on the development of innovative agroecological management methods to control bacterial wilt of potato crops. Potatoes are critical for food security in the highlands of Madagascar, and bacterial wilt caused by the soil-borne pathogenic bacterium Ralstonia solanacearum is a major constraint to their production. Like other soil-borne diseases, bacterial wilt is difficult to control with conventional methods. Dr. Rahetlah's research involves pairing crop rotation and soil amendment and/or mulching with the use of service crops, biological control agents, and disease-resistant potato crops. Sustainable and effective control of bacterial wilt will help to ensure the food security of rural households and strengthen their resilience to climate shocks.


Claudia Suseth Romero Oliva de Hirschmeier
Guatemala
 
Director,
Centro de Estudios Atitlán,
Universidad del Valle de Guatemala
 

Biological systems and organisms

Her research centers on developing a method of water purification and bioremediation based on aquatic plants, in order to remove cyanotoxins and other emergent contaminants in freshwater ecosystems. Cyanotoxins are a relatively understudied group of toxins that pose a threat to the health of aquatic ecosystems and to humans, through drinking water contamination and accumulation in agricultural products. In Guatemala, cyanobacterial blooms can be found in most important lakes, which are highly populated. Dr. Romero Oliva de Hirschmeier hopes to harness the natural detoxification systems of aquatic plants to create a cost-effective and non-intrusive approach to mitigating the risks posed by these toxins, additionally incorporating traditional Mayan practices of ecosystem management that can be intregrated with the scientific knowledge gained.


Newayemedhin Tegegne
Ethiopia
 
Assistant Professor,
Materials Science Programme, Department of Physics,
Debre Berhan University
 

Physics

Her research focuses on improving the stability of organic solar cells. The efficiency of organic solar cells has exceeded 17%, which is equivalent to the efficiency of commercially available thin-film solar cells. However, poor stability of organic solar cells in the natural environment has hindered their commercialization. Dr. Tegegne will examine factors affecting this stability problem in a laboratory set-up that approximates this natural environments. By identifying factors affecting the stability of organic solar cells, her research will help accelerate their commercialization and make affordable and sustainable energy more accessible to those in need. 

 

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