Photo of Martha Malapi

Biotechnology & medicine

Martha Malapi

She has designed biotechnological tools to improve control of agricultural pathogens.

Year Honored

Latin America

Hails From

While studying agronomy at the National Agrarian University - La Molina and later as a research assistant at the International Potato Center (CIP as per the acronym in Spanish), Martha Malapi-Wight, learned the full extent of the economic damage caused by plant pathogens. This lead Malapi-Wight to decide to dedicate her work to increasing agricultural productivity to combat one of Peru´s most important social challenges: malnutrition.

As a PhD student at the University of Texas A&M (USA), she has focused her research on fusarium verticillioides, a fungus that wreaks havoc on maize crops and produces a toxin, undetectable by the naked eye, which can cause serious diseases in humans, and even death in children. Using advanced molecular tools, she has created a series of transgenic fungi that have allowed her to advance in the general understanding of these organisms and propose alternatives for its control.

Parallel to her progress on this fungus, Malapi-Wight also coordinated the development of an effective, portable tool used to diagnose different diseases in plants directly in the field and in real time. The kit developed by this young, entrepreneur eliminates the need to transport samples collected in the field to a lab, thereby incurring costs and causing delays which can also lead to sample degradation and ultimately incorrect end results.

A biosecurity program led by the U.S. Government funded this interdisciplinary project, whose results will be published in the PLOS ONE journal. The work of this innovative woman opens new possibilities in the management of fields like food safety and derivatives of plant pathogens.