11 February is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Over the next two weeks we are highlighting some of the inspiring women scientists working in the Pacific Community.
Meet Ulamila Lutu, Research Technician at CePaCT, World Centre for Taro
Describe your work?
I work as a research technician at the Pacific’s only recognised in vitro genebank- “the Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees” (CePaCT). CePaCT maintains plant genetic resources of 17 crops in tissue culture including taro, the largest crop variety that we maintain with over 1,100 varieties. These are very important resources as we maintain the unique crop varieties of the Pacific region. It is amazing to see the impact our work has in supporting the regions food and nutritional security. It is gratifying to be able to support countries whose food crops have been devastated by disasters such as cyclones/hurricanes, drought, seawater intrusion, etc. My main work activities involve scientific research in conserving crops at a longer period of time (cryopreservation), improving the multiplication rate of crops to support countries with more materials at a shorter period of time, identifying and improving the protocols for introducing crops into tissue culture to successfully maintain the regions crop diversity, etc. The satisfaction of being able to provide plant materials in times of need is certainly rewarding and continues to drive me to improve my skills and knowledge of scientific procedures and protocols to serve our people better.
Why did you decide to work in the science field?
I have always had a fascination with the science field, more focused on Biology and Chemistry. Conservation was a field close to my heart, noticing the devastation caused by natural disasters and human ignorance pushed me towards trying to make a difference in the world. It was not until my postgraduate studies at University where I found my purpose when the former CePaCT manager, Dr Mary Taylor was a guest lecturer at our conservation course. I was so intrigued with her explanation of the activities performed at CePaCT which combined biology and chemistry to conserve the Pacific’s crop diversity. It was a no brainer when given a chance to work at CePaCT, I jumped at the opportunity to combine my love for conservation, biology and chemistry to make a difference in the lives of our Pacific people which also impacts the global community.
What impact does your work have on the Pacific region?
The assistance SPC CePaCT has provided for the region talks volume of its success. Our work has helped countries affected by natural disasters with the timely supply of crops. There are situations where we have repatriated crop varieties to countries that have lost a unique variety due neglect or disasters. We also work closely with international genebanks in sourcing improved crop varieties that are resistant to certain global diseases/viruses, providing crops with high nutritional level and crops that can tolerate certain climatic conditions such as drought, high salinity levels, etc. These activities and more have impacted the Pacific regions food sustainability as they don’t have to go far to source these resources and maintain their peoples food and nutritional security, which is why I am proud to be part of a team that continues to make a difference and contributes to the Pacific peoples well-being.
Advice to other young women or girls on getting involved in STEM?
There are so many academic disciplines available to us with a wide range of choices. It is best to find the field you are passionate about and strive for your goal. Always keep an open mind and be ready to take up any challenge no matter how hard it may be, because you will be surprised and satisfied in achieving your goal. I have enjoyed the past 10 years of making a difference in the Pacific and the world with my passion in science and perseverance in attaining the required knowledge and skills with trust in the Lord. I encourage you to aim high and strive for your dreams because nothing is impossible if you have faith and passion.