Our Team

Prof. Nicola Spence (Chair)

Chief Plant Health Officer, DEFRA, UK

Nicola is Defra’s Chief Plant Health Officer and is the Head of the National Plant Protection Organisation for the UK. The role of the Chief Plant Health Officer involves advising ministers, industry and others about the risks posed by plant pests and diseases, and ensuring that measures are in place to manage those risks and minimise their impact, as well as leading the operational response in the event of a disease outbreak. Although plant health is a devolved matter; the CPHO co-ordinates the UK response to European and International plant health matters and takes the lead on national plant health emergency response.

Nicola is an experienced research plant pathologist and worked on virus diseases of horticultural crops in the UK and internationally for over 20 years. She is an expert in plant health and international plant trade and was previously the Head of Plant Health and then Chief Scientist at the Food and Environment Research Agency.

She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology, Visiting Professor at Harper Adams University, a member of Court at the University of York and a Trustee of The Yorkshire Arboretum.

She has a BSc in Botany from the University of Durham, an MSc in Microbiology from Birkbeck College, University of London and a PhD in Plant Virology from the University of Birmingham. The subject of her PhD was Bean Common Mosaic Virus in Phaseolus beans in Africa.

She is currently Vice-President of the British Society for Plant Pathology.

Twitter: @plantchief

More about Professor Nicola Spence 

Dr. Lava Kumar (Co-Chair)

International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Nigeria

Dr Lava Kumar is the Head of the Germplasm Health, Virology and Molecular Diagnostics Units at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, Nigeria. He joined IITA in 2007 and his research work is focused on characterization, diagnosis, surveillance and control of plant viruses affecting important food staple crops such as cassava, yam, maize, soybean, cowpea, banana, in sub-Saharan Africa. He is also involved in the production of disease-free planting materials, seed health testing, surveillance of invasive transboundary pathogens, and development of diagnostic tools. Dissemination of knowledge and technology, and capacity development of national program partners through training courses and workshops in plant disease diagnostics and control, are among the key objectives of his program. His research also pioneering ICT-based tools for surveillance and seed quality assurance.

Prior to joining IITA, he worked from 1999 as a Scientist (Virologist) at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, Patancerhu, India. There his work mainly focused on viruses diseases of legume crops such as pigeonpea, groundnut and chickpea.

Some of the on-going research projects of Dr Kumar are on epidemiology and management of banana bunchy top disease, viruses of yam and cassava, maize streak and maize lethal necrosis; development of novel virus indexing methods for phytosanitation and virus indexing of vegetatively propagated crops. Controlling insect vector transmitted viruses are among his program priorities.

More about Dr Lava Kumar

 

Dr Titus Alicai

National Crops Resources Research Institute, Uganda 

Dr Titus Alicai is a Principal Plant Virologist and Leader of the Root Crops Research Programme at the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO), Uganda. His main research goal is to understand and control plant viruses in sub-Saharan Africa, and he has extensive research experience on viral pathogens of cassava, sweet potato and yam. This includes virus taxonomy, molecular characterization, diagnosis, field epidemiology, effects on growth and yield, as well as tissue culture, genetic transformation and confined field evaluation of transgenic plants. He provided the first indication that Cassava brown streak disease is caused by two distinct viruses. The team that he leads, made up of over 100 researchers, has in recent years significantly contributed knowledge on cassava brown streak disease virology, whitefly vector, resistance breeding, transgenic control and clean seed systems.  Dr. Alicai is a reviewer for leading plant pathology journals, has authored over 60 scientific publications, collaborates widely, within Africa and internationally.

More about Dr Titus Alicai 

Prof. Toby Bruce

Keele University, UK

Professor Toby Bruce is Professor of Insect Chemical Ecology at Keele University, where his new group is conducting cutting-edge research on insect-host interactions, and testing hypotheses to better understand how to sustainably manage pest species, conserve beneficial species and thus improve food security. His expertise in insect-plant interactions is relevant to understanding the biology, ecology and chemical ecology of insect vectors of plant disease.

Prof Bruce’s research seeks to understand the complex interactions between organisms, particularly herbivorous insects and their host plants, in order to devise novel interventions for reducing crop losses to pests. His wide-ranging experience bridges academic and applied research and ranges from basic lab research to field evaluation and knowledge exchange. He has a strong research track record with over 100 scientific publications, studying agriculturally important insects, and their interactions with their host plants and their natural enemies.

More about Professor Toby Bruce

Dr John P. Carr

University of Cambridge, UK 

Dr John Carr’s research interests at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Plant Sciences include plant-virus-insect interactions, and natural and engineered resistance to plant viruses.

He has worked in plant virology, defensive signalling, low molecular weight metabolite analysis and gene expression (plant and viral) for around 30 years. He has also collaborated with scientists in Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe on aphid-transmitted virus problems.

More recently his research interests have expanded to include the effects of virus infection and plant interactions with beneficial insects.

More about Dr John Carr

Prof. Richard Hopkins

University of Greenwich, Natural Resources Institute (NRI), UK

Professor Richard Hopkins has  led  a  series  of  research  and  capacity  development  projects, focusing on applied and strategic research to control pests and vectors of disease  in  crops  and  humans.  This work has been increasingly linked with Sub-Saharan Africa.

Key  priority  areas  have  been  insect  behaviour  and  the  movement  patterns  of  vectors.  He has extensive experience of involvement in cross-disciplinary research, and leading and developing collaborative projects.

He maintains a broad interest in insect behaviour, including the different scales at which insects make decisions whilst finding their egg laying site. In addition to his work on insect plant relationships, he maintains work on habitat selection and egg laying site selection on mosquitoes. This is linked to The Ethiopian Institute for Water Resource Management, the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) and CGIAR.

More about Professor Richard Hopkins

Prof. Simon Leather

Harper Adams University, UK

Professor Simon Leather’s main research interests centre around biological pest control, mainly of aphids and lepidopteran pests of agriculture, horticulture and forestry.

He has worked for some 40 years on insect pests of agricultural, horticultural and forest systems, including some of the most serious vectors of plant viruses, in Africa and the UK.

With work encompassing ecology, physiology and behavioural aspects, his main strategy has been to develop environmentally friendly methods of pest management.

Twitter: @entoprof

More about Professor Simon Leather

Dr Stuart MacFarlane

The James Hutton Institute, UK

Dr Stuart MacFarlane’s research experience includes aspects of plant virus transmission by nematodes, aphids and mites, concentrating on the molecular basis of transmission of tobraviruses and the mechanisms by which plant viruses manipulate host plant biochemistry in order to increase attractiveness to vector nematodes and aphids, thereby increasing the likelihood of transmission of these viruses to other plants.

His other work includes the identification and characterisation of new viruses in fruit crops, and design of diagnostic tests for these and other viruses.

More about Dr Stuart MacFarlane

Prof. Emmanuel Okogbenin

African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), Kenya

Dr Emmanuel Okogbenin is Director of Technical Operations at AATF, and has worked for over 27 years in research and development related to both biotic and abiotic stresses through crop improvement, agronomic and physiological studies.

He has led a number of project initiatives using several molecular platforms to understand and improve genetic resistance to pests and diseases including the African cassava mosaic virus.

In his AATF role, he identifies opportunities for agricultural technology interventions, assesses the feasibility and probability of project concept success, identifies sources of appropriate technologies, negotiates their access and deployment, and provides overall leadership in the implementation of AATF’s project portfolio.

More about Dr Emmanuel Okogbenin

Dr Jon Pickup

Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA), UK

Dr Jon Pickup’s role at SASA involves

·      managing service delivery for diagnostic laboratories

·      providing information on the presence of potato cyst nematodes in soil samples prior to seed potato production

·      the incidence of aphids in suction trap catches

·      the amount of potato viruses in seed potato crops

SASA also carries out surveillance work regarding pests of plant health significance, provides diagnoses of bee diseases and provides advice to the Scottish Government’s policy makers.

Jon’s research interests lie predominantly in the fields of nematology, entomology and the epidemiology of virus transmission by aphid vectors

More about Dr Jon Pickup

Dr Yvonne Pinto

Agricultural Learning and Impacts Network (ALINe), UK

Yvonne Pinto is the Director of ALINe, an initiative dedicated to the improvement of measurement, learning and evaluation in development with a particular emphasis on the agricultural sector.

She has a longstanding interest in agricultural development, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa where she has spent 20 years supporting the  creation  and performance  of  effective  institutions  and  agricultural  research  and  development  programmes.

She was also recently a Research Fellow and Deputy Investigator for the Africa and Europe: Partnerships in Food and Farming based at the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College. Previously she was Africa Executive at the Gatsby Foundation and Programme Officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

She has a BSc in Plant Sciences and Agriculture, MSc in Biotechnology and PhD in Virology from Reading and Imperial College.

More about Dr Yvonne Pinto

Prof. Susan Seal

University of Greenwich, Natural Resources Institute (NRI), UK

Professor Susan Seal is the Leader of the Molecular Virology and Entomology Research Group at NRI, which focuses on applied as well as strategic research for controlling pests and diseases of tropical food crops especially those caused by viruses and insect vectors on cassava, sweet potato, yams and vegetables.  Key priority areas have been insect vector characterisation and the development of molecular diagnostic tests suitable for effective technology transfer to NARS laboratories in East and West Africa working on cassava and yam viruses.

More about Professor Susan Seal

Prof. Michael Siva-Jothy

University of Sheffield, UK 

Professor Michael Siva-Jothy is Head of Department of Animal and Plant Science at the University of Sheffield. His current priority research area is the functional characterisation of insect cellular immunity in response to microbial   pathogens, and the development  of cellular diagnostic tests to enable the characterisation of insect health / pest efficacy assays to deliver to the community. 

His research focuses on understanding the causal mechanisms underpinning sexually selected and life history traits of insect pests.  

More about Professor Michael Siva-Jothy 

Dr Julian Smith

Dr Julian Smith has over 25 years’ experience in agriculture within both the UK and developing countries, and in forging partnerships in crop health. He has worked with crops as varied as potato, banana, coconut and cassava, in East Africa, South America and Asia.

A particular interest has been advocating investment with developing countries in mitigating the threats of crop pests and disease epidemics and early outbreak response capabilities that build towards a ‘one-world’ outcome for food security.

In recent years he has increasingly provided expert advice on research and policy development for most of the recent major emerging pest outbreaks of East Africa, including Banana Xanthomonas wilt, Cassava brown streak disease and Maize lethal necrotic disease.

More about Dr Julian Smith 

Prof. Lesley Torrance

The James Hutton Institute, UK

Professor Lesley Torrance is Director of Science at The James Hutton Institute and Professor of Biology at the University of St Andrews.

Her research interests include studies of plant virus-host interactions and virus-vector interactions.  They also include investigating   the   molecular   mechanisms   of   host   resistance   and   susceptibility   and   virus transmission with a focus on potato viruses particularly Potato virus Y and Potato mop-top virus.

A recent focus  of  her  research  is  to  study  the  effects  of  abiotic  stress  on  virus  resistance. She also works to use her knowledge and experience to strengthen potato production systems in developing countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

More about Professor Lesley Torrance

Prof. John Walsh

University of Warwick, UK 

Professor John Walsh is currently group leader for the Plant Virus Interactions Group in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Warwick. He has authored over 50 papers in peer reviewed journals, a number of book chapters, many articles in the popular press and many information leaflets and technical reports for growers.  

The thrust of his research programme is to control plant viruses, primarily through exploiting fundamental research on natural plant resistance to develop virus-resistant crops. Commercial release of plant varieties possessing broad-spectrum, potentially durable virus resistance emanating from his research is anticipated within the next two years.   

He has been involved in funded international collaborations with many countries including, Spain, The Netherlands, Sweden, Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, Canada, Brazil, Japan and China.  Much of his research has been focussed on brassica viruses infecting arable and vegetable crops in Europe. One of the novel forms of resistance he identified has been patented and the patent is being pursued worldwide by one of the major plant breeding / seed companies. He has commercialised a number of other products including diagnostic reagents.  

He has served as President of the International Working Group for Legume and Vegetable Viruses, with members in 28 countries and has served on BBSRC and NERC committees. He was an elected Member of the Virology Division Committee of Society for General Microbiology (SGM) and a member of Virology Group Committee of the Association of Applied Biologists (AAB). He has also been an editor for a range of journals including, the Annals of Applied BiologyEuropean Journal of Plant Pathology,  Journal of General Plant Pathology, Associate Editor-in-chief Horticultural Plant Journal and Editorial Board of Plant Biotechnology. 

More about Professor John Walsh 

 

Dr Anne Wangai

Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), Kenya  

Dr Anne Wangai is a Chief Research Officer at KALRO, with extensive experience in agricultural systems in Eastern Africa, having worked in numerous interdisciplinary national and regional research projects. She has coordinated national and regional projects, establishing and maintaining close links with researchers in the National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS), universities, government and international agencies. She has contributed widely to research of viruses affecting major food crops in Sub-Saharan Africa and in the development of outreach materials in the area of crop protection. 

As an expert in plant virus epidemiology and biotechnology, she has participated in cutting-edge research, contributing to increasing knowledge and management of plant viruses within smallholder farming systems in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

More about Dr Anne Wangai 

Dr. Isaac Macharia

Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service

Dr. Isaac Macharia is General Manager Phytosanitary Services of KEPHIS, a government organisation whose responsibility is to assure the quality of agricultural inputs and produce to prevent adverse impact on the economy, the environment and human health.

His duties include coordinating activities on Phytosanitary Services all aimed and ensuring safe movement of plant and plant products thereby ensuring food security, safe trade and protecting Kenya’s agriculture.

He has over 16 years’ experience in Phytosanitary regulation in Africa. As an expert in phytosanitary regulation with a lot of interest in Vector virus integration in phytosanitary system.

He has also been involved identification of quarantine pest, development of diagnostic protocol for quarantine pests, undertaking Pest risk analysis, production and distribution of disease-free germplasm, seed health testing, surveillance of quarantine pest and diseases and accreditation of plant health laboratories.