NUI Galway PhD Student Wins Prestigious Japanese International Award

Gezahegn Tessema (front row, second from right) with the awardees of the 2016 Japan International Award for Young Agricultural Researchers pose with officials and award organisers.
Dec 20 2016 Posted: 10:22 GMT

NUI Galway PhD student Gezahegn Girma Tessema has been awarded the 2016 International Award for Young Agricultural Researchers by the Japanese Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Research Council (AFFRC) and the Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences (JIRCAS).

Gezahegn’s research on ‘Contemporary approaches to the improvement of yam germplasm conservation and breeding’ earned this year’s recognition, and was presented at the U Thant International Conference Hall, United Nations University in Tokyo recently. Yam is the second most important root/tuber crop in Africa after cassava, and is extremely important to food security in regions of Southeast Asia and the Pacific, as well as the tropical Americas.

Gezahegn was a PhD student from Ethiopia in the Genetics and Biotechnology Laboratory of Professor Charles Spillane within the NUI Galway Plant and AgriBiosciences Research Centre. He carried out his PhD research on yam genetics between NUI Galway and the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Nigeria under the MoU between the two institutions. His research was co-supervised by Professor Spillane and Dr Melaku Gedil from IITA.

He was motivated to conduct his research on yams because it is a very important crop offering huge benefits to humankind but the extent of genetic diversity has not been well investigated and minimal efforts have been made to understand its taxonomy. In addition, very little is known regarding which genes are responsible for key traits in yam and there is almost no report on polyploidy and its effect on phenotypic performance.

Receiving the award, Gezahegn said: “I feel honoured to be one of the recipients of the 2016 Japan International Award for Young Agricultural Researchers. I am truly pleased for the recognition of our research efforts toward solving some of the challenges in yam germplasm conservation and improvement. This would have not been possible without the great mentorship from my research supervisors, Melaku Gedil and Professors Spillane. I believe that this recognition will motivate other young researchers in making commendable research outputs that contribute to solving agricultural challenges in developing countries.”

JIRCAS president Masa Iwanaga expressed his appreciation on the great achievements made by the young awardees, and expectations for much greater success in the future: “Young scientists are essential to developing countries to achieve further development, and the government of Japan sincerely wishes to contribute to the capacity development of the next generation of scientists who will play a major role in improvement of world food and nutrition security.”

This annual award, which began in 2007, is organized and presented by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Its purpose is to recognise and honour young foreign researchers (under 40 years of age) who are highly recommended by their institutes, and whose outstanding achievements promote research and development of agricultural, forestry, fishery and other related industries in developing regions.

Tessema is one of three PhD students from Africa who have graduated to date from NUI Galway under the research alliance partnership between the NUI Galway Plant and AgriBiosciences Research Centre and the world leading non-profit research organisation the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture.


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