Cyrus Mugambi works at The Plant Pathology section of Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO)

His role sees him mainly involved in plant disease identification and diagnostics in the plant pathology molecular laboratory.

Cyrus attended “An introduction to virus and vector diagnostics”, a CONNECTED training course in 2019 hosted by BecA-ILRI Hub, Kenya.  

That year he was also funded by the network to attend Ento 19, hosted by Royal Entomological Society in London, UK, and helped run the CONNECTED workshop there on international collaboration. He took advantage of communications coaching sessions offered by the network. 

Cyrus was also part of a team which successfully undertook a pump-prime funded research project, focused on maize, in collaboration with Fera Science and Newcastle University, and The University of Nairobi (UON). 

Reflecting on the virus and vector training course, Cyrus says: “I learnt a lot. I hadn’t particularly worked on insects before in the lab so it provided a good foundation, especially on nucleic acid extraction. This was useful because I would later apply this knowledge in our maize research project.” 

He says he also valued the training input on LAMP and RPA primer design, and that he usefully applied the practical work on sequencing and sequence analysis in the maize research project. 

The learning was not only limited to maize, however. “My colleagues and I are currently developing a field diagnostic tool for the detection of blackleg disease of potatoes using LAMP techniques,” he adds. 

When asked about the maize project, Cyrus explains: “It focused on learning the vectors that are involved in the transmission of maize chlorotic mottle virus. However, more questions came up during our study on the challenges that small-scale farmers face while growing this important staple. 

maize field 2

The value of mentorship 

“As an early career researcher in plant pathology, the project gave me an amazing opportunity to collaborate with seasoned scientists in the field of virology. They gave me the wings to fly in conducting the project right from the start. They gave me licence to drive the project, and offered wonderful guidance and mentorship throughout. 

“I’m in no doubt that working with experienced scientists as mentors has let my confidence flourish in carrying out research projects. I’m hopeful this experience will lead to career progressions and more research opportunities in the near future.” 

Cyrus clearly values the raft of new and strengthened collaborations as a result of his involvement with CONNECTED. He picks out his work with NaCRRI (Uganda), IITA (Tanzania) Fera Science, Newcastle University, Cambridge University, Natural Resources Institute and NIAB-EMR (UK). 

Professional development  

Turning to the professional development that his networking has enhanced, Cyrus says: My involvement with CONNECTED has made me take more responsibilities in the diagnostic lab of the crop protection program. 

“I have also managed to organise training with help from KALRO and UON, training students and colleagues on the detection of viruses from different sample types using various diagnostic techniques, including conventional PCR, Real-time (q) PCR, RPA, and LAMP.” 

Cyrus says that his funded trip to the UK for Ento 19 helped him appreciate the work being done by entomologists, both in the agricultural and health sectors. It also highlighted for him the importance of scientific collaborations between the UK and Sub-Saharan African countries. And he adds: “Interacting with people from different countries and continents has helped me appreciate the different cultures. You also appreciate everyone’s time and input.” 

And how does Cyrus feel the network might develop in future years? “CONNECTED has provided a platform where scientists and early career researchers have been able to network. In future the network could bring scientists working in the different value chains together, and assist them in coming up with proposals and funding,” he concludes.