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Meet our alumni: Protecting coffee and cocoa plants in Ghana from virus diseases

In our “Meet Our Alumni” series, we had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Ebenezer Antwi Gyamera, an accomplished alumnus of Hughes Hall (2015, Plant Sciences). Dr. Ebenezer Gyamera, originally from Elmina, Ghana is currently working as a plant virologist at the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG).

Growing up in a Ghanaian village during the 1990s Ebenezer’s early years were characterised by a close-knit community and a profound connection to nature. He reminisces, “Growing up in an African village in the 1990s meant one was pretty much cut off from the rest of the world. There were no mobile phones, no internet, and certainly no social media. The communities were relatively small, and everyone knew everyone else in the village.” Limited access to modern technologies and long-distance communication meant Ebenezer relied on traditional means of connection, such as physical travel and post.

Despite challenges, Ebenezer’s academic potential was recognised when a teacher encouraged his mother to find him a good school in a bigger town, and he flourished in an environment that nurtured his love for learning. Ebenezer shares, “Attending that school for just one academic year still remains one of my best experiences so far. The tuition was superb; we read a lot of fairytales in class, and wrote to pen pals. In just a couple of months, my spoken English improved significantly, and learning only became more exciting. ”

Driven by his passion for natural sciences, Ebenezer pursued a Master’s degree at the University of Ghana. It was during this time that he delved deeper into the field of plant virology, specifically focusing on the detection of cucurbit viruses (of the gourd family). With a burning desire to further his research, Ebenezer reached out to Prof. John Carr, the head of the Plant Virology Group at the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Cambridge which led to his successful enrolment in the Plant Sciences Ph.D. program in 2015.

Ebenezer reflects on his early first weeks in Cambridge:  “The house was packed with the friendliest of first-year Hughesian graduate students from India, Belgium, China, Australia, France, and the USA. I felt at home very quickly.” He continues, “It was always a delight to return to the house after the department. We also had a very vibrant WhatsApp chat group where we kept checking on each other’s well-being.”

“Outside the house, I also had a very positive experiences, both at my department and with people in the city.” He reminisced about an adventurous outing to a nearby winter amusement park, where he experienced his first ride on a Ferris wheel, which left him with an unforgettable memory. Ebenezer remains happy with his choice of college: “Hughes Hall was my first home in the UK and made settling in Cambridge for doctoral research easy.”

Currently, Ebenezer works as a plant virologist at the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG), focusing on studying the cacao swollen shoot virus disease that affects cacao trees. Cocoa which is the main ingredient in the production of chocolate, is the most important agricultural export commodity in Ghana. Ebenezer says, “Despite the tremendous work done on this virus disease, it has still not been contained and the only means of mitigating its spread is by cutting down infected trees and the apparently healthy trees in physical contact with the diseased trees”.

Ebenezer is now turning his focus to coffee plants as well. His research aims to find the cause of virus-like symptoms in coffee plants and he will conduct a nationwide survey to detect and document new virus diseases of coffee plants across Ghana: “I am very excited that my research contributes to mitigating the effects of virus diseases on the production of two of the world’s most cherished crops.”

Ebenezer recently published a review article on Cacao swollen shoot viruses in Ghana. The article delves into the history of chocolate, the presence of Britain in Ghana during the colonial era, and the botany of the cacao tree: click here to read.

Dr. Ebenezer Antwi Gyamera’s journey from a humble rural upbringing to an innovative and respected scientist exemplifies the spirit of academic excellence and perseverance. Hughes Hall is proud to count him among its distinguished alumni, and his contributions to the field of plant virology are set to make a positive impact on agriculture and the global community.

Further information:

With thanks to Ebenezer for use of the images in the article.

Twitter: @Dr_Gyamera