Soraya Leal-Bertioli

Non-Tenure Track Faculty Research Excellence Award 2024

Photograph of soraya bertoli

Soraya Leal-Bertioli, senior research scientist in the Department of Plant Pathology, is a preeminent scientist in identifying disease- and pest-resistance genes in wild peanuts (Arachis species) and breeding them into the cultivated peanut, Arachis hypogea. While wild species have strong resistances, they also have many undesirable traits, making them unsuitable for modern production. To solve this problem, Leal-Bertioli uses molecular markers to tag the genomic regions conferring resistances. Her research is enabling the development of higher-yielding and more profitable peanuts that require fewer agrochemicals for Georgia and the southeastern U.S. while contributing to food security for Africa and Central America’s vulnerable populations. The reach, breadth, and depth of Leal-Bertioli’s work enable the use of many sources and types of resistance; she is starting to register cultivated peanut-compatible plants with wild-derived resistance genes and make them publicly available so other institutions can use these materials, bringing more wild diversity into breeding programs worldwide.