Laura Boykin

Dr. Laura M. Boykin, Senior TED Fellow

Dr. Laura Boykin is a TED Senior Fellow (2017), Gifted Citizen (2017) and a computational biologist who uses genomics and supercomputing to help smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa control whiteflies and associated viruses, which have caused devastation of local cassava crops. She was recently (2018) been awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the Open University in the UK for her work on whiteflies, viruses and inclusion and diversity in science.  Boykin completed her PhD in Biology at the University of New Mexico while working at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the Theoretical Biology and Biophysics group. The team’s latest work to bring portable DNA sequencing to east African farmers has been featured on CNN, BBC World News, BBC Swahili, BBC Technology News, and the TED Fellows Ideas Blog. Read more at the Boykin lab page, at the TED blog or follow on Twitter.

Joseph Ndunguru, Tanzania

Dr. Joseph Ndunguru, Director of MARI

Dr. Joseph Ndunguru is the head of the Mikocheni Agricultural Research Institute in Tanzania and principle investigator of several research projects including the regional coordinator of Disease Diagnostics for Sustainable Cassava Productivity in Africa, co-funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and DFID, a project implemented in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia. In September 2012, Joseph received a Presidential medal award on Scientific Discoveries and Research Excellence and award for the best National Agricultural Research Scientist for 2011. He is an Adjunct Professor at the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology and also is the National Biotechnology Research Coordinator in Tanzania. His research interest is to understand plant virus at molecular level, their genome organization, gene expression and develop resistance to plant virus of economic importance to Africa. Cassava mosaic geminiviruses, cassava brown streak virus and sweetpotato viruses are his main focus for now. Check out Joseph’s website.

Dr. Peter Sseruwagi, Tanzania and Uganda

Dr. Peter Sseruwagi, Tanzania and Uganda

Dr. Peter Sseruwagi  is a Vector Entomologist, with a PhD from the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa he obtained in 2005. He is currently working in the Department of Biotechnology, Mikocheni Agricultural Research Institute (MARI), Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, as the Technical Assistant Coordinator for the ‘Disease diagnostics for sustainable cassava productivity in Africa’ project, which aims to build human and infrastructural capacities of seven African NARS in east, central and southern Africa to monitor, diagnose and control whiteflies and whitefly-transmitted viruses (WTV) on cassava. He joined MARI in 2011 as a Senior Investigator/Postdoctoral Researcher on a Basic Research to Enable Agricultural Development (BREAD) Project coordinated by North Carolina State University (NCSU) to investigate the transmission of Sequences enhancing geminivirus symptoms (SEGS) by cassava whiteflies. Prior to that, he worked as Senior Scientist (Plant Virology/Entomology) and Head of Horticulture Research Programme at the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI), Uganda, and as Consultant and Research Associate in the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture-Uganda (IITA-Uganda). His main research goal is to understand and control whitefly and WTV viruses on cassava, sweetpotato and vegetable crops in sub-Saharan Africa, and he has 24 years’ research experience in: whitefly biology, ecology, vector-virus-plant interactions, molecular characterization, pest and disease crop resistance assessment, field epidemiology, surveillance methodology and IPM. He is a reviewer for 15 leading science journals and has authored over 36 ISI scientific papers in peer‐reviewed journals, and at least 52 conference presentations. He has wide collaboration within Africa and internationally.

Joseph Okalebo, Uganda


Joseph Okalebo is the project manager for the Cassava Virus Action Project. Joseph is an economist and holds a Bachelor’s of Arts in Economics from Kyambogo University in Kampala, Uganda. He joins the team with 8 years of business operations experience throughout Kampala, Uganda. He has strong communication and team building skills and has helped maximize functionality of operations.

Brenda Muga, Kenya

Brenda Muga, Kenya

Brenda Akinyi Muga holds a Bsc (Hons) in Horticulture from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), Kenya, and Msc in Crop Science from Makerere University, Uganda. She got a scholarship for her Msc studies from Mikocheni Agricultural research Institute (MARI) under the disease diagnostics for sustainable cassava production in Africa project funded by Bill and Melinda gates foundation. She worked from 2017-2018 as a research assistant at JKUAT under the Cassava Biodiversity Project. She is passionate about using molecular techniques to provide timely solutions to African farmers.

Charles C. Kayuki, Tanzania

Charles Kayuki, Tanzania

Charles C. Kayuki holds a BSc (Hons) (Molecular Biology and Biotechnology) and MSc (Biotechnology) from University of Dar es salaam. He worked at Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute Mikocheni (2013-2017) under disease diagnostic for sustainable cassava productivity in Africa project as a researcher and Laboratory manager. He is interested in generating and using genetic data to understands plants viruses, disease vectors and pests and provides a timely solution to small-scale farmers.

Dr. Monica Kehoe, Australia

Dr. Monica Keho, Australia

Dr. Monica Kehoe is a Plant Virologist and Molecular Plant Pathologist working for the Western Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (WA DPIRD) in the diagnostic and laboratory services section. Her current work focuses mainly on the development, validation and use of molecular methods for plant disease diagnostics across a broad range of broadacre and horticultural crops. Research interests include the cassava brown streak and mosaic viruses, luteoviruses in pulses and oilseeds, grapevine viruses, viruses of vegetable crops, supercomputing for plant disease diagnostics and the use of portable sequencing for rapid diagnostics in plant pathology, both in the field and the laboratory. Monica has a B.Sc from the University of Melbourne, Honours in Plant Virology from Murdoch University, and in 2014 completed her PhD in Plant Virology at the University of Western Australia. You can follow her on Twitter.

Prof. Elijah Ateka, JKUAT, Kenya

Professor Elijah Ateka, Kenya

Prof. Elijah Ateka is a senior lecturer at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) in Nairobi, Kenya.  He has worked there since 2006. A virologist, Dr. Ateka’s current research at JKUAT focuses on enhancing the capacity of national cassava research programs to diagnose, characterize, monitor and sustainably manage viruses that affect cassava productivity. In 2010, Dr. Ateka took a temporary position as a visiting research fellow and scientist at the International Cooperation Center for Agricultural Education, located at Nagoya University in Japan.  There, he researched the identification of genes for resistance to rice blast in rice. Prior to joining JKUAT, he worked as a research officer at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), in the Plant Pathology Section and, later, at the Biotechnology Centre.  At KARI, Dr. Ateka worked on the USAID-funded Transgenic sweet potato project and developed research projects in plant pathology and plant virology. He went to school at the University of Nairobi in Kenya, where he received a B.Sc. in Agriculture, a M.Sc. in Plant Pathology and a Ph.D. in Plant Pathology (Virology).  His thesis was on the molecular and biological characterization of potyviruses infecting sweet potato in Africa. Dr. Ateka is a member of several professional societies, including the African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum, the Kenya Society of Microbiology, the International Society for Tropical Root Crops, the Horticultural Association of Kenya and the Agricultural Biotechnology Network in Africa.

We have an amazing team of scientists see below:

Western Australia: 
Laura Boykin, Ammar Ghalab, Bruno de Marchi, Anders Savill, James Wainaina
Tonny Kinene, Stephen Lamb, Myriam Rodrigues, Tara Sharma
Monica Kehoe – DPIRD – Department of Primary Industry and Regional Development

Mikocheni Agricultural Research Institute (MARI), Tanzania
Jospeh Ndunguru, Fred Tairo, Peter Sseruwagi, Charles Kayuki, Deogratius Mark, Joel Erasto, and Hilda Bachwenkizi.

National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI), Uganda
Titus Alicai,Geoffrey Okao-Okuja,Phillip Abidrabo, John Francis Osingada, Jimmy Akono, and Jimmy Sebayiga

Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), Kenya [activity planned for November]
Elijah Ateka
Tim Makori
Brenda Muga
Sam Kiarie

Ohio State University, Ohio, USA

Laura Kubatko

Department of Anatomy, University of Otago

Dr Jo-Ann Stanton, Dr Chris Rawle,Christy Rand


Dr David Saul, Dr Abishek Muralidhar