(L-R): Professor Pierre de Wit (academy professor phytophathology WUR, on behalf of the jury), Maaike Groot, East-West Seed representative for Europe, Plant Sciences award recipient Maria Fernandéz de Bobadilla, Prof. Dr. Marcel Dicke (WUR). (Photo: Hilde de Wolf)

Wageningen University & Research graduate Maria Fernandéz de Bobadilla received the East-West Seed graduation award for Plant Sciences (5,000 Euro) at the Royal Holland Society for Sciences and Humanities. Maria’s research focuses on how plants deal with their environment when affected by more than one stress.

Maria investigated how the poplar leaf rust fungus influences the composition of leaves of black poplar trees and how this influences the feeding behavior of caterpillar species. She used extensive chemical analytical techniques in combination with genetic analysis and research on the behavior of insects.

Jury member Prof. dr. ir. Francine Govers: “Maria’s research stood out on several aspects. Firstly, the level complexity is high. Usually, graduates tend to research 1 plant and 1 pathogen. Maria chose a more complex approach by researching a combination of stresses and influences. Secondly, her analysis was very thorough, using a wide array of techniques including chemical analytical techniques, genetic analysis and research on the behavior of insects. Thirdly, her critical and thorough evaluation led to new hypotheses. We were happily surprised by the overall level of her research.”

Maaike Groot, Europe representative for East-West Seed explains the value of Plant Science research for seed breeding companies: “Studies like Maria’s provide deeper insights into how plants react to stresses. That is the start for new improvements in crops. Our breeders focus on increasing resilience in crops and research like this helps them to direct their efforts. Our goal as a seed company is to serve farmers by improving crops to deliver the best yield and quality.”

Maria Fernandéz de Bobadilla conducted her research as part of her Masters in Plant Sciences at Wageningen University & Research, under the responsibility of the chair of Entomology. One of her projects was carried out at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena (Germany). She was nominated for the award by her examiner, Prof. Dr. Marcel Dicke.

East-West Seed awards this prize to promote stronger interest in the study of Plant Sciences. The company celebrates its 35th anniversary this year on the theme Growing Opportunities, seeking more opportunities to innovate and serve smallholder farmers in the tropics.

Prof. Dr. Marcel Dicke and Award winner Maria Fernandéz de Bobadilla at Wageningen University Campus. (Photo: Hans M. Smid)

About East-West Seed
East-West Seed is market leader for tropical vegetable seeds in Asia and expanding rapidly in Africa and Latin America. The privately-owned company has played an important role in the development and improvement of tropical vegetable varieties in Southeast Asia and other tropical countries. When Dutch seedsman Simon Groot founded the company in 1982, he set out to improve the income of smallholder farmers in the tropics through high-quality seeds. East-West Seed develops vegetable varieties that are adapted to tropical markets and growing conditions and generate increased yield and productivity for farmers. In addition, the company educates farmers and helps them to maximize their yield and income through better knowledge on vegetable production.