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NISD Thought Leaders seminar series

This seminar is part of the 2021  NISD seminar series that brings leading experts together to share knowledge around sustainable development challenges. This first season of the series focuses particularly on sustainable agriculture.

Dr Leena Tripathi R4D Director | IITA-Eastern Africa, IITA, Tanzania

Host – Peter Emmrich


Roots, tubers and banana (RTB) crops, including banana, cassava, potato, sweet potato, and yam are staple crops playing a significant role in food security, providing more than 15% of the daily per capita calorie intake for the 763 million people in developing countries. Besides, they generate income as cash crops, particularly in tropical and sub-tropical countries. RTB crops present several common challenges, such as pathogens, pests, and are slow to breed using conventional methods. As they are propagated from suckers, cuttings or tubers rather than with seeds, yield-reducing pathogens and pests build up over time, putting farmers at risk of crop failure. Using disease-resistant varieties can help mitigate the negative impacts of pathogens.

Recent advances in new breeding techniques have the potential to accelerate the breeding of RTB crops bypassing the natural bottlenecks of traditional breeding. CRISPR/Cas-based genome editing allows us to create precise targeted changes in plant genomes and is enabling breeders to develop improved varieties with resistance to biotic stresses much faster, a significant step towards more dependable yields. This targeted mutagenesis is now possible for RTB crops with a final product free of foreign DNA. However, these technologies face a complex regulatory environment and their use interfaces with concerns about seed systems and marketability.

In this seminar Leena Tripathi will present the transgenic and genome editing research at IITA for the improvement of banana, cassava and yam and IITA’s engagement with policymakers and farmers around the use of these technologies to safeguard livelihoods and sustainability.


Leena Tripathi is a Plant Biotechnologist with experience in the genetic improvement of important staple food crops to control diseases and pests. She is the Director for Eastern Africa and Leader of the Biotechnology research group at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). She also provides science leadership as a faculty member of various institutions, such as Adjunct Professor at the University of Queensland, Australia and Faculty member of BecA/ILRI hub, and Support Leader for the CGIAR Research Program Root, Tubers and Banana (CRP-RTB). She is serving as Editorial Board Member for Plant Biotechnology Journal, Frontiers in Genome Editing, Scientific Reports, and Plant Cell Reports. Besides, she is also an active member of many scientific societies and serving as a GMO expert. Her scientific contributions have been recognized internationally through several awards and honors, such as excellence awards for outstanding scientist and publications. She has been honored as an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for contributions to Agriculture.

After obtaining a Ph.D. in Plant Molecular Biology, she began her career as a Research Scientist at the University of North Carolina, USA. After that, she has worked for over 21 years at IITA in Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. She has been promoted through the ranks to her current position as the Eastern Africa Hub Director. Her team has successfully established a robust genetic transformation platform for the banana at IITA to develop genetically modified and genome-edited products and transfer these technologies to national agricultural research systems in Africa and beyond. Her group’s research outputs have been published in about 100 articles in refereed journals with high impact factors like Nature Biotechnology or book chapters. Her research has been featured in more than 200 national and international news articles and documentary films like CNN- Earth’s Frontiers and Food Evolution.

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