OpenWheatBlast wins UEA Innovation Award

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Sophien Kamoun, group leader at The Sainsbury Laboratory, won the 2023 Innovation and Impact Award for Outstanding Impact in Policy and Practice from the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Video credit: courtesy of UEA

This award recognises the significant impact Sophien and #OpenWheatBlast colleagues made in mitigating the spreading wheat blast pandemic. By embracing open science, international collaboration and novel genomics-based tools, Sophien and colleagues enabled a quick response time to better protect valuable wheat crops from this destructive disease.

The OpenWheatBlast initiative owes its success to the contributions of more than 50 international collaborators from 11 different countries.
You can find a full list of contributors at the bottom of this page.

Sophien Kamoun and Joe Win celebrated the recognition of their OpenWheatBlast impact.

Improving global crop disease diagnosis to reduce economic loss and improve food security

At the award ceremony Sophien shared that the OpenWheatBlast initiative encapsulates three core elements he deeply values:

  1. Open Science
  2. A commitment to the Global South
  3. The integration of cutting-edge genomics tools

"I think this award signals a growing recognition of the global importance of the research field, plant pathology, and its significant global impact." Sophien said.

He went on to thank international collaborators, Dr Batiseba Tembo (Zambia Agriculture Research Institute) and Prof Tofazzal Islam (Institute of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering in Bangladesh), for their pivotal role in catalyzing the open data initiative and fostering global collaboration.

Joe Win, who plays a key role in the OpenWheatBlast initiative in Sophien's group at The Sainsbury Laboratory, believes the award provides a fantastic opportunity to highlight how an open science approach can make a huge impact on combating global plant diseases.

"It was truly energising and satisfying to be involved in a project that accelerates our science to protect our food security.” - Joe Win

Nick Talbot, who has been a steadfast advocate for the wheat blast project in his role as Group Leader and Executive Director at The Sainsbury Laboratory, warmly congratulated Sophien on this well-deserved recognition: "His leadership in the OpenWheatBlast initiative, tackling the destructive wheat blast disease, is truly commendable."

"Sophien's commitment to the Global South and our shared humanity is clearly emulated through this great work and we are very proud to have such a dedicated colleague at The Sainsbury Laboratory." - Nick Talbot

Finalist entry for Prof Sophien Kamoun (UEA School of Biological Sciences and The Sainsbury Laboratory)

Prof Kamoun’s research resulted in novel genomics-based tools Field Pathogenomics (sequencing technology), and OpenWheatBlast (a web platform). These innovations have transformed plant pathogen diagnosis by providing tools that enable a quick response time to tackle crop disease disasters.

In 2016, wheat crop in Bangladesh failed dramatically due to a completely new disease to Asia. Bangladeshi officials were burning government-owned wheat fields to contain the fungus and telling farmers not to sow seeds from infected plots. Kamoun’s work was put into practice and enabled the rapid and accurate diagnosis of a specific strain of devastating wheat blast, originating from wheat imported from South America. Field Pathogenomics has subsequently diagnosed further crop disease outbreaks. The impact of this research was:

1. Immediate changes to farming practice in affected areas in Bangladesh preventing most severe crop losses and minimising the consequent humanitarian and societal disaster;

2. Rapidly improved biosecurity measures that included capacity building in Bangladesh and more globally (Australia, Ethiopia, Europe, India and the UK) to alleviate yield and associated economic losses, by preventing the further spread of emerging crop diseases, such as wheat blast.

More about the wheat blast pandemic:

List of OpenWheatBlast contributors:

This includes all authors of the following two publications:

Genomic surveillance uncovers a pandemic clonal lineage of the wheat blast fungus

Emergence of wheat blast in Bangladesh was caused by a South American lineage of Magnaporthe oryzae


The Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich
Vincent M. Were, Andrew J. Foster, Thorsten Langner, Angus Malmgren, Adeline Harant, Sarai Reyes-Avila, Weibin Ma, Lauren Ryder, Ram-Krishna Shrestha, Joe Win, Nicholas J. Talbot, Sophien Kamoun

Centre for Life’s Origins and Evolution, University College London
Hernán A. Burbano, Sergio M. Latorre

John Innes Centre, Norwich
Cassandra Jensen, Diane G. O. Saunders

Earlham Institute, Norwich
Antoine Persoons, Nicola Cook, Vanessa Bueno Sancho, Timothy Stitt, Daniel Swan

Department of Biosciences, University of Exeter
Darren M. Soanes


Institute of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Agricultural University
Dipali Rani Gupta, Nur Uddin Mahmud, Md. Shåbab Mehebub, Abu Naim Md. Muzahid, Sanjoy Kumar Paul, S. M. Fajle Rabby, Abdullah Al Mahbub Rahat, Tofazzal Islam, Pallab Bhattacharjee, Md. Shaid Hossain, Md. Mahbubur Rahman, Musrat Zahan Surovy

Argo-Environmental Remote Sensing and Modeling Lab, Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute
M. Golam Mahboob


Zambia Agricultural Research Institute, Mt. Makulu Central Research Station, Zambia
Rabson M. Mulenga, Suwilanji Sichilima, Batiseba Tembo


Graduate School of Agricultural Science, Kobe University
Soichiro Asuke, Yukio Tosa


INRA, UMR 385 Biologie et génétique des interactions plantes-pathogènes BGPI
Pierre Gladieux, Elisabeth Fournier

CIRAD, UMR 385 Biologie et génétique des interactions plantes-pathogènes BGPI
Didier Tharreau, Sebastien Ravel

INRA, UMR 1290 Biologie et Gestion des Risques en agriculture BIOGER
Marc-Henri Lebrun


International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT)
Pawan Kumar Singh, Alison R. Bentley


Laboratory of Evolutionary Genetics, Institute of Biology, University of Neuchâtel
Daniel Croll

Plant Pathology, Institute of Integrative Biology
Bruce A. McDonald


Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, University of Tennessee
Kurt H. Lamour


Directorate of Grains Industry, Department of Agriculture and Food
Moin U. Salam


Brazilian Agricultural Research Enterprise - EMBRAPA Wheat/Trigo
João Leodato Nunes Maciel, Antonio Nhani Júnior

Department of Crop Protection, Rural Engineering, and Soil Science, University of São Paulo State
Vanina Lilián Castroagudín, Juliana T. de Assis Reges, Paulo Cezar Ceresini


Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research
Ronny Kellner