Tanzanian Genomics Researcher Studies Plant DNA's Hidden Solutions

Deogracious Protas Massawe

I am Deogracious Protas Massawe, a visiting scholar from Morogoro, Tanzania. I have worked as a Molecular biology technologist at Sokoine University of Agriculture in the Department of Crop Science and Production since 2011. I have a Bachelor of Science in Biotechnology and Laboratory Sciences and completed a Master of Science in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology – in Plant Biotechnology; all at Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) in Tanzania. My research interest focuses on the application of Molecular Biology techniques for crop improvement such as Marker Assisted Selection (MAS) in breeding for biotic and abiotic resistant crops; using Molecular Biology techniques for disease diagnosis/pathogen detection. The long term aim of this research is to enhance food security by producing more food - better food - in an environmentally sustainable manner.

I have been involved in the USAID-funded IPM-CRSP project at SUA since 2011 employing good pest management practices to horticultural crops under the guidance of the Principle Investigator of the project, Prof. Maerere A. P. Recently I have been developing the diagnostic tools, “molecular markers”, which will be used in detecting Begomovirus from the family Geminiviridae affecting tomato plants in Tanzania. I am doing this work at The Ohio State University, within the Molecular and Cellular Imaging Center (MCIC) at OARDC in Wooster, under Supervision of Dr. Tea Meulia. I have been invited here as a visiting scholar for three months under IPM-CRSP project. For the best achievement of this work I have been collaborating by doing some research activities and learning more diagnostic techniques in Plant Pathology Laboratories under Prof. Sally Miller.

At MCIC I learned several applications involved in genomics and bioinformatics, and have been able to apply the knowledge in studying the available Geminiviridae sequence in the databases. By using different software resources I managed to develop diagnostic Primers for Begomovirus diagnosis. Recently I validated the Primers I designed by using the Genomic DNA samples sent from viral symptomatic plants in Tanzania. Some of the Primers gave good results, validating the presence of the viral infection in some tomato plants; hence I am carrying out further sequencing of amplified products and troubleshooting other primers.

By gaining a greater understanding of bioinformatics, software application, genome manipulation and practice of various instruments at MCIC and at the plant pathology laboratories through my work, I am confident in applying the knowledge when I return to my post at Sokoine University of Agriculture. By doing more diagnostic work and training others, I hope to have the opportunity (scholarship) to do my PhD in Plant Biotechnology, as this knowledge will continue to be very important in the near future.