Fighting genetic diversity erosion by investigating yam species

Marie Florence Ngo Ngwe concentrates her research on the yam, a plant that is a principle source of nutrition in Cameroon and is characterised by a large diversity of species. Yet as indigenous forests are destroyed, and farmers cultivate only a few yam species, the plant's genetic diversity is gradually being eroded. Marie Florence Ngo Ngwe plans to study the genetic structure of a variety of domestic and wild yam species to preserve them from extinction.

DiscovHER - Do you have an opinion on scientific topics that are in the news, such as climate change or pollution?

Marie Florence Ngo Ngwe - The world currently faces a number of threats such as global warming, war, poverty, illness or famine. No scientific aspect should be neglected due to possible links between issues. Global warming and climate change, for example, have a negative impact on agriculture and fishing. A synergetic approach is needed to face these different problems. This is one of the reasons why I became interested in studying the yam, whose clonal multiplication model is sensitive to climate changes that could reduce the capacity to adapt of the species.

D/H - Speaking of your research, can you tell us what exactly you are focusing on?

MFNN - My project pertains to Biochemistry. Its objective is to create an inventory of yam species in Cameroon and to establish this plant's propagation by microtuberisation as an innovative technology in agriculture. Despite its operational advantage, propagating roots and tubers by microtuberisation is a scientific challenge. So, understanding the process of microtuber production will be a big scientific revolution in improving yam production - a plant that plays a crucial role in food security for many populations.

My project will also help build a genetic database for yams at the Institute for Agricultural Research and Development (IRAD).

D/H - Can you tell us when you decided to become a scientist?

MFNN - My interest in science started when I was in primary school. At the time I was already fascinated by science studies because they are concrete, precise and require observation. As well as being passionate about science, the main reason that motivates my career in science is to contribute towards resolving problems that humans encounter and to improve living conditions everywhere in the world.

D/H - What are the greatest challenges that you've encountered during your career?

MFNN - The greatest challenges in the pursuit of my career as a scientist were both the absence of funds to support my research, and the lack of laboratories and related resources such as documentation, chemical products and software to analyse data. Also, people don't often believe in women's competence. To rise up to these challenges, I started working very hard to prove my competencies and to earn credibility with people. As a result, I received my Masters with honours. I then looked for scholarships abroad. I was fortunate to be selected for a short internship at Montréal University in Professor Simon Joly's group where I was well supervised. My local mentor also encouraged me considerably by providing good tutoring and advice.

D/H - Where do you think women in science stand today?

MFNN - Women are rarely appointed high-level scientific roles. Science directors are generally men. Women must claim their rights to gender equality in science.

Some women have made great breakthroughs in science, such as Marie Curie (The Nobel Prize, 1911) who discovered radium and polonium, or Elizabeth Blackburn (The Nobel Prize, 2009) who identified the telomerase enzyme as a determining factor in cellular aging. These achievements are sources of motivation for women and show that women in science can lead to revolutionary discoveries.

For Women in Science

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