Carol Ibe, a Newnham PhD student and Gates Scholar, has won a highly competitive Cambridge Society for the Application of Research PhD Student Award, for her work on a disease that devastates cereal crops in the world’s poorest regions.
Rice is the most important food crop for developing countries. However, rice harvests can be destroyed when rice blast fungus infects the plants. Carol’s research aims to understand how the rice leaf pathogen ‘tricks’ the plant into letting it invade through the root.
Carol has identified a potential new mechanism by which the fungus invades and possibly gains control of the plant’s cell machinery, by disguising itself as a friend and not a foe. This better understanding of the fungus can be used to develop new ways for farmers to protect their crops against disease.
For Carol, this potential breakthrough is only the beginning. Carol was born in the US, and studied for her Masters degrees at Georgetown, US, and Oxford, UK. However, she grew up in Nigeria, where she completed her BSc in Microbiology.
Carol explains, “Growing up in Nigeria gave me the opportunity to understand the struggles that many people living in Africa face, especially to provide food for themselves and their families. Hence my decision to pursue a Ph.D. in Plant Sciences.”
She has already set up a non-profit organisation, JR Biotek, to support Africa-based agricultural researchers. With the help of her Cambridge colleagues, she has organised three scientific training workshops in Cambridge and West Africa (shown in the photo above), providing high-quality scientific training and academic resources to 133 agricultural researchers and postgraduate students in more than 22 African countries.
She is determined to build on her research so far: “I would love to establish a research career in the field of agricultural research to enable me contribute to food and nutrition security in Africa. A postdoctoral research fellowship in Cambridge would allow me the opportunity to gain more world-class research training and to build on the work that I have done so far, both in my research and my non-profit’s capacity-building work.”
Carol also recognises her potential to act as a role model for other young BME women. She tells us, “As a BME student in STEM who has gotten this far in Cambridge, I hope to continue doing outstanding research and other work to inspire others, especially young women who don’t quite think a place like Cambridge is for them.”
Researchers like Carol are the people who are tackling the world’s global challenges: we are delighted by this recognition of her important work.