Dr Alberto Hornero

A Swansea University academic has won the Agronomy Best PhD Thesis Awards for his research to establish a new combination of methods for the earlier detection of plant disease in food crops, which could have global economic and environmental impact.

The prestigious prize was awarded to Dr Alberto Hornero of the university’s Faculty of Science and Engineering by Agronomy  ̶  an open access journal from MDPI  ̶  for his PhD thesis. The thesis centres on detecting the early signs of disease caused by plant pathogens using a combination of field data, air- and space-borne imagery, and physical and empirical models.

This research is important as plant pathogens cause an estimated 16% global yield loss annually, a figure that has barely dropped during the last 40 years and can exceed 30% in regions with the highest food deficits. Also, global warming and international trade are increasing the risks due to emerging and existing pathogens that threaten agricultural production. In order to feed a growing world population, global food production has to increase by 50% in the next 30 years despite climate disruption and shrinking arable land.

Dr Hornero’s methods for the early detection of diseases can be used to help reduce disruption to global agriculture production and have substantial impact not only on socio-economic factors, but also on the preservation of the world’s ecosystem.

Dr Hornero said:

“This recognition of my achievement has great personal meaning for me, but I should also acknowledge my thesis supervisors, Professor Peter North of Swansea University and Professor Pablo Zarco-Tejada of the University of Melbourne, as well as former faculty member Dr Rocio Hernandez-Clemente, now Distinguished researcher at the University of Cordoba and all my collaborators, without whom this research would not have been possible. I am also grateful for the support received from Swansea University, which I have been proud to be part of. This recognition exemplifies the development of multidisciplinary and complex methodologies to bring science closer to its application context."

As part of his prize Dr Hornero will have the opportunity to publish a paper in Agronomy later this year and receive CHF 500 and a prize certificate.

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