FABI PhD student, Erika Viljoen, scooped the second place prize at the 3-Minute Thesis Presentation Competition recently held at the University of the Free State. Based at the Agricultural Research Council’s Biotechnology Platform, Erika is a PhD student in the Plant Science Department at the University of Pretoria in the Molecular Plant-Pathogen Interaction (MPPI) Group at FABI and supervised by Prof. Dave Berger and Prof. Jasper Rees from the ARC.

The competition originated at the University of Queensland, and has since developed into a national competition across Australia, America and the United Kingdom. Essentially, participants are given three minutes to explain their research project. The challenge is to boil down the key elements of their PhD study in an entertaining way that is easily understood by the public, this while the clock ticks down. Importantly, protagonists come from a wide range of disciplines – good for Biotech students to hear what an Arts or Economics PhD is all about.

Erika’s PhD project covers the development of genomics resources for Amaranthus plants. Erika has assembled a genome sequence for a locally important Amaranth species, elucidated the expressed gene catalogue across different tissues, and is working on resolving phylogenetic questions using DNA barcoding as well as whole chloroplast sequence data. She is the number one fan of this "neglected" leafy vegetable and is always quick to point out its potential for food nutritional security and commercial potential, such as the Maggi Marogo product recently launched by Nestlé together with the ARC and other partners.