Dr Dawit Kidanemariam

Postdoctoral Fellow


Plant and Soil Sciences
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Grey leaf spot (GLS) disease of maize caused by the fungal pathogen Cercospora zeina is a threat to food security in sub-Saharan Africa. Hence, my research aims are to explore the molecular basis of RNAi in managing C. zeina and developing an RNA fungicide against GLS. I am working with the Molecular Plant-Pathogen Interactions research group (MPPI) (http://tinyurl.com/FABI-MPPI) led by Professor Dave Berger within the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI) (www.fabinet.up.ac.za) and the Department of Plant & Soil Sciences.

I graduated with a PhD in molecular plant pathology from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Brisbane, Australia in 2018. During my PhD (2014 – 2018) I worked on the molecular characterisation of several different DNA and RNA viruses infecting edible aroids in East Africa. Complete genome sequences of several different viruses were fully characterised, and their genetic diversity and possible origins were examined. Furthermore, an infectious clone of taro bacilliform virus (TaBV) was also developed to further examine the virus host range, symptoms, and yield losses.

After my PhD, I joined the Centre for Agriculture and the Bioeconomy (CAB) within QUT for my postdoctoral research fellowship under the leadership of Distinguished Professor James Dale. During my postdoc at CAB (2018 – 2021) I was involved in the development of a novel RNAi-based strategy to generate banana plants with resistance to economically important diseases. Furthermore, I was part of a project aimed at developing Cavendish bananas with resistance to the most devastating soil-borne fungal disease of banana, Fusarium wilt tropical race 4 (TR4). I have also been involved in several other banana-related research activities. Most notable of these was the development of an infectious clone of banana streak virus (BSV) for use as a virus induced gene silencing (VIGS) in bananas.

Prior to my PhD (2010 – 2014), I worked for four years in the national plant biotechnology research program within the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) based at Holetta National Agricultural Biotechnology Research Centre (NABRC). My responsibilities at NABRC were managing the overall research activities within the plant tissue culture laboratory, developing and optimising in-vitro mass propagation protocols for different crops, production of virus-free planting materials and undertaking molecular and serological disease diagnosis. I have also one semester lecturing experience (2010) at Haramaya University, Haramaya, Ethiopia and three years of teaching high school biology (2005 – 2007) at Nati Primary and Secondary School, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.