COLLEGE STATION – Silvano Ocheya and Ahmed Elsayed, two Texas A&M University doctoral students in the soil and crop science department, have been selected as recipients in Monsanto’s Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program, according to the program director.
Dr. Ed Runge, Monsanto’s Beachell-Borlaug International Scholar Program director and judging panel chair, said the two join three previous Texas A&M recipients: Bhoja Basnet, now at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico; Christopher Chick, who graduates this year; and B. K. Reddy, who is in his second year.
“Texas A&M is the only U.S. land grant university with five MBBI Scholars,” Runge said. “Kansas State and Cornell University each have four scholars. I am pleased that having five scholars is recognition of the quality of our professors and their students.”
Dr. David Baltensperger, Texas A&M soil and crop sciences department head, said, “We continue to see huge benefits from this program. This is a clear win for matching some of the best potential students in the world with some of the world’s leading researchers to help us prepare the next generation of leaders.”
“The judging panel is composed of seven world-famous scientists and an ex-officio non-voting member from Monsanto,” Runge said. “Scholar selection is due to their competitiveness. In the first five years, 64 scholars have been selected from 314 applications representing 25 countries.”
Monsanto established the prestigious, competitive fellowship to train scholars capable of becoming agricultural leaders by studying the most advanced breeding technologies available to address global challenges in rice and wheat production, he said. The company provided $10 million for the first five years and recently added $3 million for three more years.
“This is an outright gift from Monsanto and occurred because of discussions with Dr. Norman Borlaug that wheat and rice production was going up at a rate less than population growth,” Runge said. “The students sign a pledge that they will work in the public sector upon graduation, so Monsanto does not expect to hire the graduates from the program.”
Each recipient must focus on a critical genetic constraint affecting rice or wheat production, particularly in a developing country, and be paired with a university professor, he said. This year 65 applications were reviewed and 12 were selected for funding.
The doctoral program includes experiential learning in both developed and developing countries, he said. For this program, only Australia, Canada, Europe and the U.S. are considered developed countries. The students must identify and do part of their doctoral study in one of these countries and in another developing country.
Ocheya’s doctoral study selected for funding by the program will receive $180,000 and Elsayed will receive $110,000. Previously, Basnet received $180,574, Chick received $136,000 and Reddy received $127,888, Runge said.
“We are very proud of our faculty members who have been selected to advise these students and the benefit of this program to world food security,” Baltensperger said.
Ocheya is a doctoral student of Dr. Shuyu Liu, Texas A&M AgriLife Research small grains geneticist in Amarillo, and Dr. Amir Ibrahim, AgriLife Research small grains breeding program leader in College Station.
His study is to identify single nucleotide polymorphic markers for drought tolerance and to develop spring wheat germplasm using marker-assisted breeding.
“Ocheya’s research under the scholarship will be in collaboration with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico or CIMMYT and others in AgriLife Research,” Liu said. “This will advance Ocheya’s knowledge and experience in wheat breeding.”
Elsayed is a doctoral student of Dr. Dirk Hays, Texas A&M associate professor of cereal grain developmental genetics, and Ibrahim. His study will focus on identifying genetic loci in wheat that regulate the plant’s ability to keep its spike temperatures cooler during heat and drought stress.
In particular, he will focus on defining the role that high wax content on the spike glumes plays in the process of spike cooling and its role in improving wheat yield and yield stability during heat and drought stress, Hays said.
“The study is a collaboration among scientists at Texas A&M University, CIMMYT, the International Center for Agriculture in Dry Areas in North Africa, and the Agricultural Research Center in Giza, Egypt,” Hays said.
“This prestigious scholarship is given on the merits of not only the advisers and their associated programs, but also of the student,” Ibrahim said. “These students are capable of becoming leaders in their agricultural institutions in the U.S. or their home countries. They are conducting cutting-edge research, which will have implications on the global community where wheat production needs to keep up with population growth.”
The 2012 and 2013 successful student applicants will attend a leadership course for three days preceding the World Food Prize Ceremony in Des Moines, Iowa from Oct. 19-25. They are provided the opportunity to interact with the World Food Prize Laureates and many scientists, as well as the other students during the event.
For more information on Monsanto’s Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program, go to www.monsanto.com/mbbischolars.