Floren Villanueva Scrafton is one of our ’40 Faces of Plant Pathology’
BSPP members can be found in 51 different countries, with 30% of members based in countries outside of the UK. As part of the BSPPs 40th anniversary, we asked our membership to describe some things about themselves, what plant pathology challenges they would most like to see solved, and what could improve the world of plant pathology in terms of inclusivity. Click here to return to 40 Faces Home Page.
Floren Villanueva Scrafton
Institution and country of residence
University of Oxford
Area of expertise/study
I’m fascinated by differing stress defence strategies of plants: how the environment has shaped the evolution of abiotic and biotic stress tolerance traits, and mechanistically, how plants perceive and respond to combinations of these stresses resourcefully. My expertise are in the biology – namely salt-tolerance and immunity – of the naturally stress resilient species Chenopodium quinoa, a salt-tolerant crop originating from the Andes. I research quinoa for my PhD because it is a promising candidate for global food security; beyond its stress resilience, quinoa is highly adaptable and nutritionally complete, a vitamin-loaded carbohydrate with all essential amino acids that has sustained Andean communities for thousands of years. As part of my research, I develop collaborations with quinoa farmers, agronomists and germplasm curators in Bolivia, which is a country of origin facing increasing challenges to its position as a major quinoa growing nation. Through these links we learn of the most pressing biotic and abiotic threats to quinoa yields and look to establish systems for screening the stress tolerances of geographically distinct native varieties. For my PhD experiments however I use the seeds of a European-bred variety called ATLAS which were grown by the British Quinoa Company on a farm in Shropshire!
About your early experiences in education
I went to the culturally diverse Fairfield High School in Bristol followed by an inner-city 6th form college where I studied Biology, Chemistry, Maths and Physical Education at A-level. I moved to the University of Birmingham to do Biochemistry with an Erasmus year at Spain’s Universidad Complutense de Madrid, where I took applied Biochemistry modules in Plant Biotechnology, Pathology and Food Science. This experience, along with trips made to Bolivia during my summers to learn about agriculture and its related socio-economic implications for local communities, inspired my direction of research for the PhD.
If you could solve one problem in plant pathology, what would it be?
To predict and counteract how major abiotic stresses impact biotic stress tolerance of key crop species, specifically, our ability to identify ‘core stress tolerance’ traits and determine their mechanisms so we can breed these into multi-stress tolerant crops that are safe-guarded against climate change.
If you could solve one issue relating to inclusivity and diversity within the field of plant pathology what would it be?
Create more opportunities for engaging young scientists from under-represented ethnicities or geographies in Plant Pathology Research but through a more balanced, reciprocal exchange programme. The students (who could come as individuals or as a pair) would receive a sponsored laboratory-based internship or a travel grant to attend a specific training course, but the host institute would also get to learn about the students’ own experiences and perceptions of Plant Pathology, science research and education. The model could be similar to the University led ‘Tandem Language Exchange’ programmes and would aim to improve research accessibility, career pathways and sow early seeds for international collaboration.
If you weren’t a plant pathologist, what would you be?
A professional triathlete training towards making the Olympic Team for either Great Britain or Bolivia! #DreamBig