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School of Environment and Natural Resources


Mitigating in-season drought stress for pearl millet in Senegal

July 12, 2021
SENR PhD student Laura Mason collecting soil and plant samples in Senegal.

Funding awarded to advance research on beneficial microorganisms that mitigate in-season drought stress for pearl millet in Senegal

School of Environment and Natural Resources (SENR) doctoral student Laura Mason has been awarded a number of highly competitive fellowships and research grants, including the Ohio State University Presidential Fellowship and the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Pre-Doctoral Fellowship ($101,820 to support two year’s research). Another grant from the Rodney Nichols Science and Technology Innovation Fellowship is supporting travel expenses to accomplish some of her dissertation research in Senegal. Ms. Mason’s dissertation research is on soil-plant-microbial dynamics in relation to reducing drought stress in pearl millet, a major challenge for subsistence farmers in the Sahel of West Africa.

Advancing knowledge of microorganisms to mitigate in-season drought stress

Millet is an important food source in the Sahel and is frequently grown without chemical fertilizers under harsh dryland conditions. To mitigate these effects, Ms. Mason is part of a research team, directed by Professor Richard Dick, who also serves as her major professor.  The team is working with Senegalese farmers, researchers, and students, to investigate and develop an indigenous intercropping system with two native shrubs, Guiera senegalensis and Piliostigma reticulatum.

Ms. Mason, in particular is investigating the distribution, identification, and ecology of beneficial soil microorganisms that are promoted by shrub intercropping; with a focus on microorganisms that confer drought resistance for pearl millet. More information about the research and associated projects in Senegal can be found on the website of the West African Shrub Initiative (WASI)

Ms. Mason has also led the effort in developing funded competitive grants to support her research from the Center for Applied Plant Sciences at The Ohio State University (~$59,100 research and stipend support) and Community Sequencing Program from the Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute. The latter is providing support for state-of-the-art sequencing (~$30,000), and computational genomics and metagenomics services.  Further recognition of the research is her receiving the Outstanding Student Poster Award at the World Microbe 2021 Forum (American and European Microbiology Societies).


Richard Dick
Professor of Soil Microbial Ecology

Learn more about WASI