Morag Ferguson

Morag FergusonMorag is originally from South Africa, but completed her BSc. (Hons) in Crop and Soil Sciences at the University of Edinburgh. Through DfID's 'Associate Professional Officer's Scheme' she completed her MSc. at the University of Birmingham in 'Conservation and Utilisation of Plant Genetic Resources'. She conducted her PhD research at the Genetic Resources Unit, ICARDA, Syria where she studied the diversity of wild Lens species. Morag joined ICRISAT in India for her post-doc studies and developed SSR markers for groundnut diversity assessment. She relocated to ILRI-BecA in 2002 and joined IITA in 2003 to initiated molecular marker based applications for crop improvement. Since then she has worked on marker development, diversity assessments, QTL mapping and marker-assisted breeding in various crops including cowpea, yam, banana and cassava.

Currently Morag is focusing on cassava, particularly in relation to genetic diversity, tolerance to cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) and drought tolerance. She currently manages three main projects:

1) 'Biotechnology Tools to Combat Cassava Brown Streak Disease' funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This project, funded in November 2009, focuses on the use of biotechnology applications and plant field resistance to combat cassava brown streak disease (CBSD). It will apply and extend new information derived from the sequencing of the cassava genome to improve putative existing molecular markers associated with CBSD field resistance from the variety Namikonga. This will involve extensive single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) identification, fine mapping and transcriptome analysis. The project will also identify molecular markers associated with CBSD field resistance from additional germplasm sources identified in Tanzania. It will test the field resistance of this germplasm in the Lake Zone of Tanzania and in Uganda and develop partial inbreds from them for breeding stocks. Using existing markers identified in Namikonga, it will test the first application of marker-assisted selection (MAS) for CBSD in Tanzania and Uganda, with the view to scaling-up in a sustainable way in the future. If successful, this will allow plant breeders to select for CBSD field resistance at the seedling stage and allow for pre-emptive breeding in locations in which the disease is not currently present. The project will also test transgenic cassava lines for resistance to cassava brown streak virus (CBSV) imparted through post transcriptional gene silencing (PTGS). This will be done in confined field trial sites located in Uganda.

2) 'Genetic Linkage Mapping of Field Tolerance to Cassava Brown Streak Disease' funded by ASARECA. This project is closely associated with the first project, and aims at enhancing the accuracy and efficiency of cassava breeding for CBSD tolerance for enhanced food security and cassava productivity in the ASARECA region. The purpose is to identify molecular markers associated with quantitative trait loci for CBSD resistance in two cassava genotypes, Nachinyaya and Kiroba, found to be tolerant to CBSD. Again, if successful, this will allow plant breeders to select for CBSD field resistance at the seedling stage, rather than take three years for accurate phenotyping, and allow for pre-emptive breeding in locations in which the disease is not currently present. To date seed has been generated for the mapping populations.

3) 'Development of a genetic resources base for drought and biotic stress improvement in cassava' funded by the Generation Challenge Program. The overall objective of this project is therefore to enhance the utility of the existing cassava reference set by redefining its contents so that it fully represents diversity but also encompasses germplasm with a range of responses to other traits of interest such as starch quality, b-carotene content, disease resistance etc. Diversity will be expanded to include more germplasm from southern, eastern and central (SEC) Africa which is currently under-represented. It is anticipated that a trait-based reference set will be of much more use to the cassava breeding community than a purely conventional reference set that represents diversity. The project also aims at conserving and exchanging the reference set among participating institutions and better describing the reference set and interesting breeding germplasm through intensive SNP-based fingerprinting. In this way, the project aims at building on, and adding value to activities initially undertaken as part of Phase I of GCP.

Morag has a strong interest in capacity building and has worked with many MSc. and PhD students since she arrived at IITA-Nairobi at the ILRI-BecA hub in 2002.

Selected Publications

  • Kawuki, R., M. Ferguson, M. Labuschagne, L. Herselman and DJ Kim (2009). Identification, characterisation and application of single nucleotide polymorphisms for diversity assessment in cassava (Manihot esculenta Crantz.). Molecular Breeding 23: 669-684.
  • Odeny D., Jayashree B., M. Ferguson, D. Hoisington, J. Crouch and C. Gebhardt (2007). Development, Characterisation and Utilisation of Microsatellite Markers in Pigeonpea [Cajanus cajan (L.) Millsp.]. Plant Breeding 126:130-136.
  • Ferguson, M.E., A. Jarvis, H.T. Stalker, D. Williams, Luigi Guarino, J.F.M., Valls, R.N. Pittman, C.E. Simpson and P. Bramel (2005). Biogeography of Wild Arachis (Leguminosae): Distribution and Environmental Characterisation. Biodiversity and Conservation 14 (7): 1777-1798.
  • Ferguson, M.E., M.D. Burow, S. Schultz, P. Bramel, A.H. Paterson, S. Kresovich and S. Mitchell (2004). Microsatellite identification and characterization in peanut (A. hypogaea L.). Theoretical and Applied Genetics 108(6)1064-1070.
  • Ferguson, M.E., P.J. Bramel and S. Chandra (2004). Gene Diversity Among Botanical Varieties in Peanut (Arachis hypogaea L.) Crop Science 44(5)1847-1854
  • Jarvis, A., M.E. Ferguson, D. Williams, G. Mottram, L. Guarino, H.T. Stalker, J.F.M. Valls, R.N. Pittman, C.E. Simpson, P. Bramel (2003). Biogeography of wild Arachis: Assessing conservation status and setting future priorities. Crop Science 43: 1110-1108.
  • Ferguson, M.E., N. Maxted, M. van Slageren and L.D. Robertson (2000). A re-assessment of the taxonomy of Lens Mill. (Leguminosae, Papilionoideae, Vicieae). Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 133: 41-59.
  • Ferguson, M.E., B.V. Ford-Lloyd, L.D. Robertson, N. Maxted, and H.J. Newbury (1998). Mapping the geographical distribution of genetic variation in the genus Lens for the enhanced conservation of plant genetic diversity. Molecular Ecology 7: 1743-1755.