Genetic improvement of bananas with enhanced resistance to pathogens and pests.

– Leena Tripathi –

Biography
Leena Tripathi is Principal Scientist and Deputy Regional Director of East Africa Hub of International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). She is leading the transgenic research at IITA hosted by Biosciences for east and central Africa (BecA) hub. She is also the Country Representative of IITA-Kenya. She has Ph.D. in Plant Molecular Biology and M.Sc. in Molecular Biology & Biotechnology. She worked at University of North Carolina at Greensboro, USA before joining IITA. She has been involved in Plant Biotechnology research for more than 20 years with specific interests in crop improvement.
Her primary research focuses on genetic improvement of banana, plantain, cassava, enset (false banana) and yam for disease and pest resistance to enhance production, which will lead the food security, income and wellbeing of resource-poor farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Her research efforts at IITA led to the establishment of ‘Genetic Transformation Platform’, which has allowed her team to develop improved varieties by incorporating agronomically important traits such as those conferring diseases or pests’ resistance. Her team has developed several technologies, which are under product development and closer to dissemination to farmers. Banana Xanthomonas wilt (BXW) caused by Xanthomonas campestris pv. musacearum is threatening banana production and the livelihoods of smallholder growers in East and Central Africa, and solutions have to be found fast before it could destabilize food security in the region. She has pioneered a new approach, which uses genetic engineering to produce banana varieties resistant to this deadly disease. Her research provides proof of concept for control of BXW through Hrap and Pflp-mediated resistance and the first field based evidence for transgenic control of a bacterial disease in banana and progress towards development and release of transgenic bananas resistant to BXW feasible. Such resistant varieties would boost the available arsenal to fight this disease epidemic and save livelihoods in Africa. Based on success with transgenic bananas, her team is now expanding the transgenic technology developed on banana for control of bacterial disease to enset, which is staple crop in Ethiopia. Her team has also established proof of concept demonstrating field-based resistance to pathogenic nematode in transgenic plantain. Her lab is also developing virus resistant banana/plantain and cassava using RNAi technology. Her team is also working on new crop improvement technologies like genome editing of vegetatively propagated crops. All her research is in collaboration with advanced labs in USA, UK, Australia and National partners in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Malawi and also regional partners.
She is involved in capacity building through training of NARS and supervising students for Master and Ph.D. degree. She has trained more than 30 postgraduate students and 250 short-term trainees including researchers and regulators in past 15 years in the field of plant transformation, molecular biology, molecular diagnostics and biosafety. The outcomes of research in her lab have been published in 70 articles in refereed Journals with high impact factor like Nature Biotechnology or in book chapters and have been featured in more than 170 national and international news articles and documentary films.