Meet Marciana Galambao, Newton Fund grant awardee.

Research topic: Population Genetics and Endosymbiont Studies of the Banana Aphid, Pentalonia nigronervosa Coquerel in the Philippines

Host institution / UK university: Manchester Metropolitan University

Home institution: Visayas State University

Degree programme: PhD Environmental Biology

Describe your PhD research in simple terms.

My research focuses on the development of specific strategies for abaca and banana bunchy top virus management. Specifically, I am interested in determining the population genetics of the banana aphids, the vector that transmits the viral disease, and understanding how this interacts with the host plants and the virus. In addition, I will also identify the endosymbiont (bacteria) communities of the aphids and evaluate potential biocontrol agents.

What is the relevance of your study to the economic development, welfare and poverty issues in the Philippines?

Abaca and banana are among the top export Philippine commodities, providing employment and contributing substantially to national economy. However, the presence of viral diseases (particularly Bunchy Top Virus) significantly affects the long-term sustainability and viability of the Abaca industry. Aphids, the vector that transmits the virus has led to the application of Integrated Pest Management strategies that combine cultural, chemical, and biological controls and it is hoped that these combined strategies will help in the eradication of Bunchy Top disease. Managing Abaca diseases is very important in increasing exports and foreign vector exchange earnings as well as providing food security and promoting sustainability in the agriculture sector.

How do you envision your UK education can contribute to your future career as a researcher?

My goal is to become an effective researcher specialising on biodiversity conservation and crop disease management in agriculture. My UK education provides me with research skills in genetic analyses and helps develop my confidence, independence and critical thinking skills. The research group that I am working with provides me with a network of international collaborators. This exposure to different research environments has equipped me to work alongside scientists worldwide to better understand, predict, and control agricultural pest outbreaks and biodiversity issues in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.

Upon the completion of my study, I will maintain strong collaboration with my host institution, the Manchester Metropolitan University and the scientists whom I have worked with not only in research but also in the development of educational practice through the exchange of further faculty and students between the institutions.

How has the commitment of the UK in science and technology influence your decision in choosing the Newton Fund?

In the Philippines, agriculture plays a major role in the economy of the country. One of the driving forces that help long term sustainability and food security is through research innovation and development in Science and Technology (S & T). However, in-country training and independent research are not enough for inclusive growth and sustainable development. As an aspiring researcher, I need in-depth training with state-of-the-art laboratory facilities in a collaborative research environment. Hence, the commitment of the UK in S & T influenced my decision to choose the Newton Fund as the fund aims to facilitate the capacity building not only for individuals but also in partnership with other research institutions both locally and abroad.