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From Kenya to Australia: my global passion for fighting crop disease

By CCDM Masters student Virginia Wainaina

Undertaking my master’s project with the Fungicide Resistance Group at the Centre for Crop and Disease Management has been both challenging and rewarding.

I left my role working with the Ministry of Agriculture, livestock and fisheries, in Kenya, where I held 10 years working experience, and came to Curtin University to pursue a Masters of Science course in dryland agricultural systems. I am passionate about working within the agriculture sector and my interests are in plant pathology, so I jumped at the opportunity to learn more through the Curtin University Master’s course.

My Masters research project with The Fungicide Resistance Group is focused on further developing a mobile molecular tool which uses Loop-Mediated Isothermal Amplification (LAMP) to detect fungicide resistance in foliar fungal crop disease, out in the field. The technology works by taking leaf samples from a crop, preparing the sample into a solution and then running it through the portable LAMP machine. The machine detects the presence of mutations that allow the disease to be fungicide resistant.

This is the first time the technology has been applied to fungicide resistance diagnostics, and will benefit the industry in the future by allowing a more targeted and integrated approach to disease control to minimise losses caused by crop disease.

My Master’s project has opened up many exciting opportunities, and travelling to Tasmania to interact with growers was something I never thought I would do.

The Centre for Crop and Disease Management have technically equipped PC1, PC2 and PC3 quarantine approved molecular laboratories. Having limited experience in biotechnology, I undertook training and received guidance from the Fungicide Resistance Group to learn how to use the different equipment.

The group is composed of experienced researchers with different backgrounds, therefore you don’t need to have a background in agriculture. If you have a molecular biology background, and interests in biotechnology, there are many research topics you could pursue.

The high level of support and training opportunities I have received with the Fungicide Resistance Group has opened up possible PhD research opportunities for me to continue and expand the scope of my research in the field of crop disease research.

Taking on a master’s research project can be challenging and requires you to balance your time between conducting research and attending classes. However the reward of knowing your research has tangible benefits for the grains industry, far outweighs the long working days.

Interested in taking up a Student reserach project with the CCDM? Click here for available Honours, Masters and PhD projects or get in touch: ccdm@curtin.edu.au.

CCDM Masters student Virginia Wainaina

Virginia says she never thought she would travel to Tasmania and interact with growers.

CCDM's Kejal Dodhia helps Virginia with the portable LAMP machine.