BOZEMAN — A Montana State University graduate student was one of just 20 individuals recognized nationwide for his work in the field of crop science.

Bernard Nyamesorto, a doctoral candidate in the College of Agriculture’s Department of Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology, received the Gerald O. Mott Meritorious Graduate Student Award in Crop Science in April. The award, offered by the Crop Sciences Society of America, recognizes top graduate students who demonstrate exemplary academic achievements, research contributions, leadership and service.

Bernard Nyamesorto, a doctoral student from Ghana in the College of Agriculture at Montana State University - MSU Photo by Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez

Born in Ghana, Nyamesorto studied agriculture at the University of Ghana before moving to Bozeman in 2016 to study for a graduate degree. After beginning a master’s program, he shifted his focus to directly pursuing a doctorate with the guidance of Li Huang, whose work focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms of plant-pathogen interactions.

“In my very first committee meeting, the members saw my research work, and they recommended that I switch programs to pursue a Ph.D. instead of a master’s,” said Nyamesorto. “Here I am presented with the opportunity to jump straight into a Ph.D. program, and I went for it.”

Nyamesorto’s doctoral research, which he completed this spring as a member of MSU's class of 2020, focuses on determining which genes are targeted by pathogens during infection, with an emphasis on wheat. His work examines and modifies the genes in wheat to create varieties that are resistant to rust fungi, a common and economically damaging plight for Montana wheat farmers.

“Rust pathogens take advantage of the plant’s own genes,” said Nyamesorto. “What my project did was identify those genes, then edit them so that the pathogens can no longer use them as an advantage against the plant itself, making the plant resistant.”

The hope with the work, he said, is to generate genetic modifications that can then be bred into cultivars like those bred at MSU, infusing the rust resistance into existing varieties that breeders and farmers grow in their fields.

Nyamesorto was nominated for the Mott Award by his doctoral committee and Huang.

The award honors Gerald Mott, a longtime adviser of crop science graduate students at Purdue University and the University of Florida. Nyamesorto was honored along with students from land grant universities across the nation, including Ohio State, California State and Purdue.

“Bernard is a fast learner. He is eager to learn,” said Huang. “It’s impressive that he’s gotten beautiful results from every experiment the first time he’s tried them. It is easy to teach a student like Bernard. He has brought many skills to our research program and we have enjoyed having him around.”

Four years since moving to the U.S. from Ghana, Nyamesorto has completed his doctoral program and is making plans for the future. He will teach a summer course in genetics at MSU and then remain in Bozeman for a postdoctoral program in MSU’s Schutter Diagnostic Lab to continue his work in plant pathology. He credits his advisers and the Bozeman community for much of his success.

“Dr. Huang has been a wonderful supervisor. Her actions and leadership convinced me to pursue this program,” Nyamesorto said. “I always tell people who are looking into graduate school to make sure they find the right person to work with and to make sure it’s a conducive environment to their success. MSU fulfills that perfectly. It’s been wonderful.”

- By Reagan Colyer, MSU News Service -