Professor Wenbo Ma receives prestigious Ruth Allen Award

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The American Phytopathological Society honoured our senior group leader, Professor Wenbo Ma, with the Ruth Allen Award for her innovative research and outstanding contributions to the field of plant pathology. For this award, they select researchers who have changed, or have the potential to change, the direction of research in the field of plant pathology.

Ruth Florence Allen (1879-1963) was the first woman at the University of Wisconsin to earn a PhD in botany and she greatly advanced our knowledge of the plant pathogens, rust fungi. Her surviving heirs created the Ruth Allen Memorial Fund which has been awarding one outstanding researcher every year since 1966.

It came as no surprise to Wenbo’s colleagues at The Sainsbury Laboratory that she was chosen for this prestigious award. Her international reputation in effector biology research preceded her arrival to our Laboratory last year as a senior group leader. She is also one of the pioneers in determining the role of small RNAs in plant immunity against non-viral pathogens. Research in her group offers exciting prospects to enhance disease resistance in crops and help secure more food for our future populations.

Professor Ma is the second person at The Sainsbury Laboratory to receive this prestigious award, following Professor David Baulcombe who received the Ruth Allen Award while working at our Laboratory in 2002.

Wenbo’s contributions to the scientific community extend well beyond her outstanding research. During her 15 years as a professor, her laboratory has trained dozens of postdoc fellows, postgraduate students, and undergraduate students. Wenbo feels strongly about mentoring early career scientists: “I consider supporting next-generation researchers as my duty and, at the same time, I have thoroughly enjoyed the interactions with these talented young minds and learned a lot from them.”

Photograph of Wenbo Ma against a white background with the American Phyopathological Socitety and Sainsbury Laboratory Logos. Wenbo is holding the Ruth Allen Award trophy in her right hand.

We at The Sainsbury Laboratory are delighted to celebrate this success with Wenbo and look forward to her making many more fundamental discoveries with us in plant health science.

Professor Wenbo Ma says: “I am thrilled and humbled to receive this award. This recognition belongs to all the lab members who I have had the honour to work with. Many thanks to my wonderful colleagues, friends, and collaborators. This award is a motivation for us to make more exciting discoveries at TSL.“

Professor Nick Talbot, Executive Director of The Sainsbury Laboratory, says: “We are delighted that our senior group leader, Prof Wenbo Ma, received the Ruth Allen Award for her outstanding contributions to plant pathology research. It is fantastic to see Wenbo’s innovative research on effector biology, small RNAs in plant immunity, and so many contributions to plant-microbe interactions recognized in this way.”

For more information, or to request an interview with Prof. Wenbo Ma, please contact Mia Cerfonteyn at or

About The Sainsbury Laboratory
The Sainsbury Laboratory is a world-leading independent research institute that specialises in plant-microbe interactions, funded by The Gatsby Charitable Foundation, The University of East Anglia and UKRI-BBSRC. Our work is focused on leading global efforts to reduce crop losses to disease.