“An opportunity I will never forget” – wheat researcher receives major award in Mexico  

An outstanding early-career wheat researcher has received international recognition for her innovative and dedicated research.  

Marina Millan-Blanquez a fourth year PhD student at the John Innes Centre is one of five leading young scientists worldwide to receive a Jeanie Borlaug Laube Women in Triticum (WIT) award for 2023.  

The WIT award, established in 2010 under the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI), provides professional development opportunities for early-career women working in wheat. 

It is named after Jeanie Borlaug Laube, a renowned scientific mentor and daughter of the Nobel Peace Prize winner and wheat pioneer Dr Norman Borlaug. 

Marina, a UKRI-BBSRC Norwich Research Park Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (NRPDTP) funded student, who researches female fertility in bread wheat in the group of Professor Cristobal Uauy travelled to Mexico recently where she received the award in person from Jeanie Borlaug. 

“This is the first time I’ve travelled beyond Europe, and to come here to Mexico and meet so many wheat scientists from all over the world is an opportunity I will never forget,” said Marina. 

“It’s wonderful to be a part of this network and a responsibility to try to create a more diverse community,” she continued. “Being responsible is about the small things you do every day to create a supportive environment, and to keep on doing those things no matter what stage of your career you are at. I want to continue to be kind and supportive to everyone around me.” 

During the memorable trip Marina and fellow women wheat researchers from around the world took part in a two-day training and networking workshop at the CIMMYT Campo Experimental base at Obregon. 

Marina’s achievement follows those of John Innes Centre researchers Dr Anna Backhaus  who received the same award in 2020,  Dr Sanu Arora (2019) and Dr Sreya Ghosh a WIT winner in 2018. 

Since the WIT awards were founded, the BGRI has recognised 71 early-career award winners from 31 countries and 13 mentors from nine countries. 

Professor Cristobal Uauy, a former winner of the WIT mentor award, said: “Marina has a myriad of human qualities, which when combined with her scientific excellence, provide a great foundation for future leadership in the field. This is an amazing achievement for Marina, that is richly deserved.” 

Jeanie Borlaug Laube, chair of the BGRI, said: “It is an honor to recognize these incredible scientists for their drive and vision in support of food security. My father believed that generations of hunger fighters would be needed to rid the world of food insecurity, and I’m proud to recognize these 2023 awardees for continuing to carry that mission forward.” 

Maricelis Acevedo, director for science for the BGRI and research professor of global development in Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences said: “The WIT Awards have proven to be influential in shifting gender dynamics towards more equity in wheat science. WIT awardees are taking on leadership roles in scientific settings all over the world, and these newest awardees have the potential to continue that trend towards a more inclusive future.”

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