College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Securing Global Energy Security Through Innovative Research

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Dr Precious Mangena has graduated with her PhD in Plant Breeding for her work in developing a superior sweet stem sorghum hybrid over a short period of time using a male gametocide so that the crop can be used in bio-fuel production and related activities.

Mangena’s research was funded by the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) and the National Research Foundation (NRF).

In the context of global challenges such as energy crises, climate change and food insecurity, Mangena -who was a student at the African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) – was interested in contributing to the effort to increase biofuel production worldwide through sweet sorghum breeding to help enable global energy security, independence from fossil fuels, reduction of greenhouse gases emissions and mitigation of adverse global climatic change.

Mangena’s sweet sorghum hybrids are superior to commercial cultivars as far as biofuel production is concerned, and her research will play a pivotal role in sweet sorghum breeding as application of male gametocides to sweet sorghum has not been previously evaluated.

‘The use of male gametocides in sweet sorghum breeding will reduce the time taken to develop new hybrid varieties by five to 10 years, thereby increasing hybrid seed production and reducing the costs of production of a sorghum hybrid dramatically,’ said Mangena.

This crop is suitable for biofuel production thanks to its adaptive and constituent traits, and can yield a high biomass per hectare on marginal lands that are unsuitable for food and feed production. It can also be used as a dual-purpose crop, meaning that biofuel production will not compromise grain production for food.

Mangena’s plans for the future include applying experience gained during her PhD research to collaborations with other plant breeders on developing crop varieties that will address the many challenges the world is facing, such as climate change and food and nutrition insecurity.

The experience of completing her PhD has, she says, taught her how to keep up-to-date in the fast-developing scientific arena, and how to translate ideas from scientific literature into new approaches to breeding problems. She has also learnt important writing and presentation skills, publishing scientific findings and working independently.

‘I am grateful for the opportunity to work with other plant breeding students at the ACCI to broaden my knowledge. I am also grateful for the excellent supervision, teaching and administrative support,’ she said.

Mangena thanked her supervisor Professor Hussein Shimelis and co-supervisor Professor Mark Laing for their guidance, support and patience. She expressed gratitude to the TIA and the NRF for funding her studies and thanked Mr Ian Doidge and technical staff for their field work support. She also thanked God for carrying her through her studies, and her family for their love, prayers, sacrifices, support, understanding and encouragement.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal