Features

Nigel Taylor, Ph.D.

Senior Research Scientist and Core Team Member
BioCassava Plus Project
Institute for International Crop Improvement
Donald Danforth Plant Science Center 
975 North Warson Road 
St. Louis, MO 63132, USA 
E-mail: ntaylor@danforthcenter.org


Nigel Taylor is a senior research scientist at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center where he is a member of the Institute for International Crop Improvement and is principal investigator of the Virus Resistant Cassava for Africa (VIRCA) project. Prior to joining the Danforth Center, Nigel worked at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. His expertise centers on the plant tissue culture and the genetic transformation technologies required to deliver genetically improved cassava to famers in East and West Africa. A native of Scotland, Nigel received his bachelor’s degree in botany from University of Glasgow and his Ph.D. in plant tissue culture from the University of Bath, United Kingdom. 

Dimuth Siritunga, Ph.D.

Core Team Member, BioCassava Plus Project
Associate Professor, Department of Biology
University of Puerto Rico
Mayaguez, Puerto Rico 00681, U.S.A.
Tel: 787-832-4040 x3113
E-mail: dimuth.siritunga@upr.edu

Dimuth is a professor of Plant Molecular Biology at the University of Puerto Rico - Mayaguez (UPRM). An expert in conducting field trials with transgenic plants, his experience includes working with crops such as cassava, cowpea and sweet potato. Dimuth obtained his Ph.D. in Plant Biology from Ohio State University (OSU) in 2002. He also obtained a M.S. in Agronomy from OSU after completing a B.S. in Biology at Hobart College (NY). After a post-doctoral fellowship at OSU, he joined the Biology Department at UPRM in 2004.

Dimuth manages research and field laboratories in Puerto Rico, which employ a staff of approximately twelve. His laboratories have received funding from the National Science Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Dimuth has been a member of the core team since 2005 and has conducted 20+ transgenic cassava trials, adhering to all USDA-AHPIS regulations.

National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI)

Chiedozie Egesi, Ph.D.

Chiedozie In-Country PI, BioCassava Plus Project
Assistant Director and Head, Cassava Breeding
National Root Crops Research Institute
Umudike
PMB 7006
Umuahia 440001, Nigeria
E-mail: Chiedozie.egesi@nrcri.gov.ng


Chiedozie is a Nigerian, who is the Assistant Director and Head of Cassava Breeding at the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Umudike, Nigeria. The two main foci of his research are breeding for resistance to the major pests and diseases of cassava, such as the cassava mosaic disease, and the biofortification of cassava roots with beta carotene. NRCRI’s Cassava Research Programme coordinates the development of superior cassava varieties and the national pre-release varietal trials conducted in all agroecologies of the cassava growing areas of Nigeria. Chiedozie has numerous publications in cassava and yam breeding and genetics in peer reviewed journals. He also pioneered and supervised the introduction of molecular marker assisted breeding for important traits in cassava at NRCRI.

Between late 2005 and fall 2007, Chiedozie was a postdoctoral researcher in the Cassava Genetics Laboratory of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Colombia. There he worked on the introgression of delayed post-harvest physiological deterioration (PPD) genes from Manihot walkerae (a wild relative of cassava) into cultivated cassava for the BioCassava Plus project. He also investigated the genetics of inheritance of the delayed PPD trait.

In the fall of 2007, Chiedozie returned to Nigeria where he continued his work on cassava variety development. From there he joined the BioCassava Plus team as the In-Country Product Development Manager for Nigeria where he coordinates all project activities with relevant stakeholders. Chiedozie became the BC+ In-Country PI for Nigeria in 2013.  His goal is to apply modern molecular biotechnology approaches to low-cost and efficient improvement schemes aimed at making cassava fulfill its role as a food security and poverty alleviation crop.


IHUOMA OKWUONU


Tissue Culture and Transformation Coordinator Biocassava Plus Project
Head, Tissue Culture & Genetic Transformation Unit
Biotechnology Programme
National Root Crops Research Institute
Umudike, Nigeria


Ihuoma earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Combined Microbiology and Chemistry from University of Nigeria - Nsukka in 1998 and Master of Science degree in Applied Microbiology and Plant Pathology from University of Jos - Nigeria in 2004. Her M.S. work was on the phytochemical analysis of a combination of plant parts for the control of Typhoid fevercaused bysalmonella typhi. She is presently pursuing a Ph.D. degree in Environmental Microbiology and Biotechnology at the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture in Umudike, Nigeria.

In June 2008, Ihuoma joined the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Umudike as a research scientist in the biotechnology unit where she worked on the improvement of root and tuber crops using plant tissue culture techniques. From 2009 to January 2014 she trained in cassava transformation at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Missouri in order to improve the nutritional, postharvest, and disease resistance qualities in cassava.

Presently she is back at NRCRI, Umudike, Nigeria, where she serves as Head of the Tissue Culture and Genetic Transformation Laboratory. Ihuoma’s focus is to develop and establish a genetic transformation platform at Umudike and to continue her work on cassava bio-fortification in conjunction with the BioCassava Plus Project.


Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) Laboratory

Simon Gichuki, Ph.D.

In-Country PI, BioCassava Plus Project
Head of the KARI Biotechnology Centre and the Biotechnology Coordinator
Kenya Agricultural Research Institute
KARI Biotechnology Centre
P.O. Box 14733
Nairobi, Kenya
E-mail: stgichu@yahoo.co.uk


Dr. Simon T. Gichuki was appointed the Head of the KARI Biotechnology Centre and the Biotechnology Coordinator of the Kenya Agricultural Institute (KARI) in 2006.  He is currently a senior principal research scientist.  He has been the Principal Investigator of various research projects including: East African Collaborative Sweetpotato project; BioCassava Plus project; Virus Resistant Cassava for Africa project and the African Biofortified Sorghum Project. He is currently the regulatory team leader for the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) and the Nitrogen Efficient Maize for Africa (IMAS) projects.  He also backstops several biotechnology projects at KARI. Dr. Gichuki has previously worked with the International Potato Centre (CIP) in research, development and promotion of pro-vitamin A rich sweetpotato.
Dr. Gichuki has represented KARI at several national and regional biotechnology and biosafety forums including the Open Forum for Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), Biotechnology Awareness Creation Strategy for Kenya (BioAWARE), AgroBiodiversity program of ASARECA, Bioscience Centre for East and Central Africa Network (BecANET) and the National Biosafety Committee (NBC). He is an active participant in biotechnology policy development at the national and regional levels. He is currently the secretary to the KARI Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC).

Dr. Gichuki holds a Ph.D. in Genetics and Plant Molecular Breeding, from the University of Agricultural Sciences, Vienna (Austria), an M.Sc. in Agronomy from Oklahoma State University (U.S.A.) and a Bachelor’s degree in Agriculture from the University of Nairobi.



HANNINGTON M. OBIERO


Seed Specialist/Biotechnologist
Consultant Field Implementing Coordinator
P.O. Box 169-50100
Kakamega, Kenya
E-mail: hmobiero@yahoo.com


Mr. Hannington M. Obiero was appointed to the post of the IICI Field Implementing Coordinator in Kenya on January 1, 2014. In this role, he is responsible for coordination and implementation of Danforth Center field activities in Kenya.  Mr. Obiero obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Agriculture at the University of Georgia - Athens in 1985. Prior to receiving his Bachelor’s, Hannington completed a three-year Diploma Course in Agriculture at Egerton University in 1975. He has attended a series of other courses which include: obtaining a diploma certificate in tissue culture and biotechnology at the University of Osmaria, India in 1997 and a diploma certificate in research and extension of Horticultural Crops in 1995 at Tengeru- Arusha, Tanzania.

During his professional career, Mr. Obiero was a senior seed inspector with the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) from 1975 to 1990. Between 1990 and 1994, he conducted a series of agronomic trials on rain-fed rice and horticultural crops in western Kenya.  Hannington has conducted screening and evaluation of large quantity of cassava germplasm for resistance to cassava mosaic disease, resulting in 24 cassava genotypes which are widely accepted and adopted by farmers in Western Kenya. Mr. Obiero has conducted capacity development with many farming communities and extension personnel of the Ministry of Agriculture and he has extensive training on GMO and biosafety regulations and the standard operating procedures that govern them.

From 1999 to December, 2013, Mr. Obiero successfully coordinated cassava research in western Kenya and was also the Site Manager of the collaborative transgenic cassava project between Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and the Danforth Plant Science Centre (USA) from 2011 to December, 2013.


Baylor College of Medicine

MICHAEL A GRUSAK (MIKE) PH.D.


Core Team Member, BioCassava Plus Project
Plant Physiologist, USDA-ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center
Professor of Pediatrics, Baylor College of Medicine
E-mail: mgrusak@bcm.ede
E-mail: Mike.Grusak@ars.usda.gov

Mike joined the Children’s Nutrition Research Center in 1990 to develop an interdisciplinary program that would link plant science and production agriculture with human nutrition concerns. He has organized and/or served on the Scientific Advisory Committees of several International Symposia. He currently serves on the Editorial Boards of the journals: Plant and Soil, Crop Science, Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, and Rice Journal.  He is the Acting Research Leader for the Delta Obesity Prevention Research Unit in Little Rock, Arkansas, and serves as the Scientific Officer for the Office of Scientific Quality Review, which conducts peer review of all USDA-ARS research projects.

His research involves understanding the molecular mechanisms and regulation of nutrient transport within plants, with the long-term goal of enhancing the nutritional quality of plant foods for human consumption. His group is currently focused on several minerals, including iron, zinc, potassium, and calcium, as well as various health-beneficial classes of phytochemicals such as carotenoids and flavonoids. He also uses in vitro cell culture methods and clinical investigations to study phytonutrient bioavailability and metabolism in humans. His group has developed labeling techniques to incorporate various stable isotopes into plant foods, to provide unique tools for these clinical studies.  As part of the BioCassava Plus Program, Mike’s group is currently focused on understanding the mechanisms by which iron moves into and throughout the cassava plant.  This information will help us refine our transgenic strategies for increasing iron concentration in storage roots.