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Last update: May 2021

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Harriet Benbow

2020 Early Career Awardee

Harriet Benbow
Harriet Benbow was awarded an IWGSC Early Career Award and received her award at the Plant and Animal Genome Conference (PAG) in San Diego, California (USA) in January 2020. Harriet also received a travel stipend to allowed her to travel to the PAG conference to present a talk during the IWGSC main workshop on Saturday 11 January 2020.

Harriet was raised on a farm in the West Midlands of the United Kingdom. She studied biology at the University of Bristol where her interest in agriculture and biotechnology grew. This led her to pursue a PhD with Professor Keith Edwards on wheat genetics and genomics. After graduating in 2016, she moved to Dublin, Ireland, to start a postdoc with Professor Fiona Doohan in the School of Biology and Environmental Science at University College Dublin (UCD).

We caught up with Harriet to discuss her award, her research and her future plans.

A few words about your work


Kellye Eversole and Harriet Benbow

I am focused on identifying sources of genetic resistance to Septoria tritici blotch in wheat – a foliar disease of wheat that causes huge yield losses and has now developed resistance to many of the major classes of fungicides. I also have a curiosity for a family of genes called Serpins. These genes are protease inhibitors, which play a role in grain yield and disease response in wheat.

Why did you apply for the IWGSC Early Career Award?

The resources provided by the IWGSC have made an unbelievable difference to wheat research. Thanks to the IWGSC reference sequence, it became possible to turn an obsession with serpin genes into a genome-wide study of the whole gene family. I wanted the opportunity to thank, and present to, the community, and to show my example of how wheat research is being transformed by the availability of the genome reference.

In what way do you think being recipient of the IWGSC Early Career Award could help you in your career?

Being named as the awardee has been extremely motivating and a huge confidence boost. At this stage in my career I am starting to cultivate my research interests that may form the foundation of a research fellowship, and I believe that the opportunity to speak to the community will give me invaluable feedback that can only strengthen my research and ultimately improve my chances of winning funding. Furthermore, having the award on my CV will speak for itself, as to be recognised by the IWGSC as worthy of this award has improved my profile as a scientist.

What are your career/future plans?


I am really passionate about wheat improvement and plan to continue working in this field. My goal is to apply for a research fellowship in the near future to further elucidate the role of serpin genes on wheat improvement. In particular, I want to explore their role in the wheat response to fungal pathogens, as here in Ireland the biggest limit on yield is caused by fungal diseases in the field.

More information

Harriet presentation at PAG took place during the IWGSC workshop on Saturday 11 January (8:00 am to 10:10 am, Town and Country room)

Her talk is entitled: “Serpins: Genome-Wide Characterisation and Expression Analysis of the Serine Protease Inhibitor Family in Triticum aestivum.”

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