Access keys

Skip to content Accessibility Home News, events and publications Site map Search Privacy policy Help Contact us Terms of use

Speaking Up For Food Security: BBSRC researcher announced as winner for first ever Global Food Security early career researcher competition

From left to right, Maia Elliot (GFS), Lauren McGale (runner-up), Claire Kanja (winner), and Riaz Bhunnoo

Claire Kanja from Rothamsted Research has been named winner of the first ever Global Food Security competition ‘Speak Up for Food Security’.

Twelve finalists competed to win the Global Food Security (GFS) Programme’s first ever ‘Speak Up for Food Security’ competition in London on Friday 15 March.

Winner and bioscientist Claire Kenja will presenting at Cheltenham Science Festival 2019. 

The 12 finalists presented 3-minute talks to a judging panel of researchers and communicators, including BBC presenter Dr Adam Rutherford and Director of the GFS programme Dr Riaz Bhunnoo.

Winner Claire Kanja from Rothamsted Research said:

“This has been an amazing opportunity to meet fellow researchers from other disciplines, and work together to come up with innovative ideas and potential collaborations to achieve our combined aim of protecting the future of global food security. Winning the Speak Up for Food Security competition has given me the confidence to engage more with public outreach and I’m really excited for the chance to share my research with the Cheltenham Science Festival.”

Launched in January 2019, the ‘Speak Up for Food Security’ competition welcomed all UKRI council-funded PhD students and post-docs who recognise the food security implications of their research. Finalists were challenged to develop engaging 3-minute talks about their research in the context of food security and the wider food system through compelling narrative and story-telling.

BBSRC’s Executive Chair Professor Melanie Welham, said:

“Bioscience has an essential role to play in supporting whole food-systems approaches to agriculture and food security research, essential for delivering resilient and sustainable food production in the future. BBSRC is proud to support the next generation of bioscientists through PhD awards and post-doctoral research, who are taking on the challenge of global food security.”

Claire is conducting PhD research in the devastating wheat disease Fusarium Head Blight (FHB).

FHB is caused by the fungal pathogen Fusarium graminearum, which is considered one of the most important fungal pathogens globally. As well as reducing crop yields and grain quality F. graminearum also produces vomitoxin (DON). This toxin is dangerous for both human and animal consumption. In an area the size of a football pitch, only four heads of wheat need to be infected with fusarium to condemn the whole harvest. With a growing population and no new agricultural land, the pressure is on to sustainably increase crop productivity. FHB can be responsible for up to 50% reduction of yields in some regions, and currently only moderate resistance has been developed through wheat breeding programmes.

Claire is researching how the FHB fungus controls its host and successfully infects wheat. By finding out what tools fusarium has in its arsenal and how it uses them, researchers like Claire can begin to work out how best to fight it.



UK Research and Innovation Media Office

Tags: press release skills and training people fusarium Rothamsted Research food security fungus wheat