Meet PROTECTA’s Early Stage Researchers (ESRs)

ESR1: Jenifer Seematti Sundar, India

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) Sweden

Jenifer completed a Bachelor of Technology in Genetic Engineering at SRM University, India. She completed her BSc thesis on kidney toxicology in mouse models at Harvard Medical School, USA. Following this, she completed an MSc in Plant Biotechnology at Wageningen University and Research, Netherlands. Her major and minor MSc theses were on QTL mapping of ageing genes in Caenorhabditis elegans, and identification of roles of Globodera pallida effectors in potato, respectively. For a year afterwards, she worked as a biophysics project assistant. She is currently a PhD student at in Laura Grenville-Briggs’ lab at the Department of Plant Protection Biology, at SLU, Alnarp. Her PhD project focus on functional characterization and population genetics of Phytophthora infestans effectors. She hopes to identify effectors to use in resistance breeding and biocontrol against potato late blight.

ESR2: Magdalena Ściślak, Poland

University of Aberdeen, UK

Magdalena completed her Engineering degree in Biotechnology (Bioinformatics) at the Silesian University of Technology in Gliwice, Poland. She holds a double Master’s degree gained through Erasmus+ programme – MSc in Applied Bioinformatics from Cranfield University in the United Kingdom and MSc in Biotechnology (Bioinformatics) from the Silesian University of Technology. Currently, Magda is working as a PhD student in Professor Pieter van West’s lab at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, UK. Her research project is concerned with finfish aquaculture and her main objective is to perform comparative analysis of effector diversity and aggressiveness within European strains of Saprolegniales and other animal pathogenic oomycetes.

ESR3: Andrei Kiselev, Russia

LRSV, University of Toulouse, Paul Sabatier III, France 

Andrei studied BSc in Ecology at Saint-Petersburg State University, Russia and then moved to Germany to study Agri-Genomics for his MSc Degree. During his master’s studies he undertook two research internships in the Small Molecule Signalling Group at the Max-Planck Institute and in the Plant Breeding Institute at Kiel University, where he carried out his Master’s thesis on CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing in Rapeseed. Andrei is currently a PhD student at the LRSV lab in Toulouse, France under the supervision of Elodie Gaulin. His project is dedicated to uncovering the molecular mechanisms of Aphanomyces euteiches infections in legumes including pea and alfalfa. He is studying the host adaptation of this oomycete and hopes to decipher some of the mechanisms of the interactions between host, pathogen and environment in this system.

ESR4: Bikal Ghimire, Nepal

Norwegian University of Life Sciences, (NMBU), Norway

Bikal completed his Bachelor of Agriculture Science in his home country Nepal and studied for a double masters through the Erasmus Mundus Program at the University of Goettingen, Germany and the University of Padova, Italy where he specialized in Plant Health and Crop Protection. He did his master thesis research at Wageningen University, Netherlands where he worked with effectors genes of fungal pathogen Alternaria solani and that’s when he got more interested to work with pathogen effectors and plant microbe interaction. Currently, Bikal is doing his PhD at Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) working with May Bente Bruberg, where he works with Oomycete pathogen Phytophthora cactorum that causes crown rot disease in strawberry. Bikal aims to find pathogen genes responsible for the disease and the resistant gene in the wild host which can help to combat the pathogenicity. He is using tools like agrobacterium mediated transient expression in plants, CRISPR-Cas9 based gene editing, infection assays, effector localization, activity-based protein profiling, quantitative proteomics and bioinformatics for his study.

ESR5: Murilo Araujo Sandroni, Italy/Brazil

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SLU, Sweden

Murilo has a background in Agricultural Engineering which he studied in his home country, at the University of São Paulo, Brazil. Murilo undertook a professional science master degree in Agricultural production at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, USA. He then studied for a double masters through the Erasmus Mundus program from the Polytechnic University of Valencia, Spain and the Georg-August-University of Göttingen, Germany, where he specialized in Plant Health in Sustainable Cropping Systems. Murilo completed both his MSc thesis work in private Agrotech companies, before undertaking his PhD studies at the Department of Plant Protection Biology, SLU, under the supervision of Erik Alexandersson and Laura Grenville-Briggs. Murilo is studying alternative methods of resistance to Phytophthora infestans in potato, by investigating the effects of Plant Resistance Inducers (PRIs) as low-risk alternatives to synthetic pesticides. He also has a keen interest in the mitigation of climate change actions and in studying how plant resistance and pathogen aggressiveness will be altered under future climate scenarios. He hopes that by modeling these interactions, in collaboration with Veiko Lehsten at the University of Lund, we will be able to stay ahead of the spread of potato late blight and utilize more sustainable methods of disease control in the future.

ESR6: position currently vacant

ESR7: Laura Ossorio Carballo, Spain

University of Oxford, UK

“PhD student Laura Ossorio Carballo has dedicated her academic career to the study of plants. Starting with a Degree in Biology by University of Oviedo (Spain), she continued her studies obtaining a Master Degree in Biotechnology applied to the preservation of plant resources in the same university. After this achievement, she obtained an extended expertise in molecular biology of plants working as a research support at the prestigious Centre for Research in AgroGenomics (CRAG) in Barcelona (Spain). Currently, she is investigating the role of secreted proteins in plant immunity against the aggressive pathogen Phytophthora infestans, and the mechanisms deployed by the pathogen to overcome host resistance as a PhD student in the University of Oxford under the supervision of Prof Renier van der Hoorn. 

ESR8: Christian Benjamin Andersen, Denmark

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, (SLU), Sweden

Christian graduated from the University of Copenhagen with a master’s degree in Agronomy before joining the PROTECTA consortium as a PhD fellow. Christian is pursuing his PhD studies in Laura Grenville-Briggs’ lab at the Department of Plant Protection Biology, SLU. His research is about the use of oomycetes in biological control of various plant pathogens and the effector biology of the mycoparasitic oomycete Pythium oligandrum. He specifically studies the biology of oospores and the involvement of effectors in microbial interactions in order to improve the use of P. oligandrum as a biocontrol agent. Through his investigations into the ecological risk of using conventional pesticides and biological control agents in commercial agriculture he also helps to benefit both producers and society alike.

ESR9: Tatiana Marti Ferrando, Spain

Wageningen University and Research, Netherlands

Tatiana received her bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology from the University of Valencia. During her bachelor’s degree she joined the Molecular Biology group studying the regulation of mRNA turnover in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii chloroplasts. She continued her studies at Valencia with a master’s degree in Biotechnology and Biomedicine. Currently, Tatiana is a PhD candidate at the Wageningen University & Research, the Netherlands in the group of Vivianne Vleeshouwers. Her PhD project is focused on the identification and characterization of pattern recognition receptors in Solanum that recognize apoplastic effectors from Phytophthora infestans. She hopes her studies will contribute to a better understanding of new immune receptors in potato, and lead to the development of more durable resistance in potato.

ESR10: Valentina Rossi, Italy

Maribohilleshög AB, Sweden

Valentina is from Italy where she obtained her Bachelor in Biotechnology at University of L´Aquila. She continued her studies at the University of Perugia (Italy) where she received her Masters Degree in Agricultural and Environmental Biotechnology. During her Master’s studies she completed an Erasmus traineeship program at DLF, a seed company in Denmark. Valentina is currently working as an industrial PhD student at the company MariboHilleshög in collaboration with Laura Grenville-Briggs at the Department of Plant Protection Biology, SLU in Sweden. The objective of her project is to identify and characterize resistant genes and QTLs to the oomycete Aphanomyces cochlioides in sugar beet, to contribute to the breeding of resistant sugar beet. 

ESR11: Max Ossenbrink, Germany

Solynta, The Netherlands

Max Ossenbrink received his MSc degree in Horticultural Sciences from Hannover University and is currently working as an Early Stage Researcher at the hybrid potato breeding company, Solynta in the Netherlands. In his research project, led by Michiel de Vries, multiple resistance genes are stacked into potato through High Speed Potato Breeding techniques to introduce durable resistance to the highly virulent and adaptive pathogen Phytophthora infestans, which causes Late Blight. Stacking multiple resistance genes in commercial potato cultivars will significantly reduce the need for fungicides.

To identify new potential resistance gene sources, Max conducts field trials and detached leaf assays, whilst also looking for markers that he can use for marker assisted breeding. He hopes to create hybrid potato lines with different resistance to P. infestans that will be more durable and environmentally sound.

ESR12: Dania Habet, Lebanon,

University of Tuscia, Italy

Dania is originally from Lebanon where she completed her bachelor’s degree in Agricultural engineering specialization in plant protection at The Lebanese University, faculty of agriculture. She completed her her master’s degree in Integrated Pest Management of Mediterranean fruit tree crops (IPM) from the Mediterranean Agronomic institute of Bari (CHIAM-Bari-Italy). Her master thesis was focused on soil borne fungal pathogen of citrus and olive in Lebanese nurseries.Currently she is pursuing her doctoral studies at Tuscia University in Italy under the supervision of Anna-Maria Vettraino. Dania hopes to identify new Eco-friendly control strategies against Phytophthora species in nurseries and is investigating various species as biocontrol agents.

ESR13: Noelia López-García, Spain

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), Sweden

Noelia completed both her BSc and MSc in Environmental and Forestry Engineering at the University of Córdoba, Spain. She then continued her master’s studies with a double MSc majoring in Mediterranean Forestry and Natural Resources Management at the University of Lisbon in Portugal. Noelia is currently a PhD student at the Southern Swedish Forest Research Centre, at SLU under the supervision of Johanna Witzell. She is keenly interested in forest pathology and particularly in native and alien invasive forest pathogens that threaten the economic and ecological sustainability of forests. She hopes to elucidate the close relationships between host trees and pathogenic oomycetes and to use this information to develop more sustainable approaches to the control of oomycete diseases of woody plants.

ESR14: Maryam Hashemi, Iran

LRSV, University of Toulouse, Paul Sabatier III, France

Maryam Hashemi obtained her BSc. In Agricultural Engineering-Agronomy and plant breeding from Isfahan University of Technology-Isfahan, Iran and pursued her MSc  studies in the same university focusing on Agricultural Engineering- Plant Breeding. After her graduation, she was working in both, university, as a T.A., and in field, as a breeder. Although she focused on cereal breeding for abiotic stresses tolerance (especially wheat breeding for drought tolerance), she had a craving to augment her knowledge about biotic stresses and new methods to overcome them. Maryam is currently a PhD student at the LRSV in Toulouse under the supervision of Bernard Dumas. Her work concerns the commercialization of oomycetes for biocontrol and bio-protection with an emphasis on using Pythium oligandrum as a biocontrol agent to fight against oomycetes diseases and is carried out in collaboration with the Biofungicide company, De Sangosse. At present, Maryam is studying the characteristics and impacts of P.oligandrum in terms of its interactions with plant and pathogenic oomycetes, plants and other organisms.

ESR15: Clara Benavent Celma, Spain

University of Aberdeen, UK

Clara has a background in Forestry Engineering, which she studied at the Polytechnic University of Valencia, Spain. She carried out her master’s thesis work at the Rolnizcy University of Krakow, Poland and undertook a short fellowship at the University of Tuscia, Italy. She undertook a second MSc in Plant Health, a at the Polytechnic University of Valencia, as well as a master in Secondary Education Teaching at the University of Valencia. Clara undertook several fellowships after her MSc education, firstly at the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA), and then as as an intern at the Food and Agriculture Agency of the UN (FAO). After working as a laboratory technician at the Spanish National Research Council, (CSIC), she moved to the University of Aberdeen to pursue her PhD studies under the supervision of Steve Woodward and Pieter van West. Clara is interested in the study of alien invasive pest and pathogens, their detection, the damage they cause, how they are spread globally and the mitigation methods that can be used to reduce their impacts on natural ecosystems and is thus studying the biocontrol properties of Pythium oligandrum for the control of Phytophthora species in nurseries and the plants for planting pathway.