Early Career Scientist Spotlight | Mariana Prieto Torres

Mariana Prieto Torres is a graduate student in the Vegetable Pathology Lab at NC State University and is working on a PhD under the guidance of her major professor, Dr. Lina Quesada and committee members Dr. James Kerns, Dr. Peter Ojiambo and Dr. Dorith Rotenberg. Previously, Mariana joined the Quesada lab as a Kellman Scholar in the summer of 2019. In 2022, Mariana received a  FFAR Fellowship. She is part of the 2022-2025 cohort and her sponsor is Pickle Packers International, a grower’s association that Dr. Quesada has worked with before.

mariana in the cucurbit field

Mariana Prieto Torres visits field plots where her research is focused on biosurveillance and management of Cucurbit Downy Mildew (Pseudoperonospora cubensis).

What is your hometown?
Cajicá, Colombia.

What is the focus of your work?
plant pathology

Introduce yourself—your background, where you are now, and your current research focus.
I am originally from Colombia where I studied Biology and Microbiology at Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá. I am currently a second year PhD student at North Carolina State University. My current research focuses on biosurveillance and management of Cucurbit Downy Mildew (Pseudoperonospora cubensis).

Why did you choose to work with plant pathology?
My passion for agriculture started during my time as an undergraduate. I learned the importance of research and innovation and I was introduced for the first time to plant pathology. While doing an REU internship at NC State, my interest in plant pathology quickly turned into a spark when I realized how academic research translates into solutions to help growers and advance agriculture via Extension. That is the reason why I choose to work in plant pathology.

What do you hope to accomplish during your time working on the CucCAP grant, and what do you most look forward to in this position?
My hope is to provide growers with research based solutions that will help them minimize disease management costs.

Please provide a brief description of your research.
I am working on developing a novel biosurveillance system that combines spore trapping, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and robotics sampling, and genomics-based rapid diagnostics for early detection of cucurbit downy mildew. With this system we could also provide information on crop risk and fungicide resistance in the pathogen (P. cubensis). This research is important because it can inform growers about which cucurbit crop to spray, when to initiate sprays, and what fungicides will be most effective to achieve sustainable and cost-effective disease control while minimizing fungicide resistance.

What is your favorite crop, gene, trait, pathogen, or plant disease?
My favorite pathogen is Puccinia graminis, which causes stem rust in several crops.

Do you have any social media handles that you want included?
Twitter: @MPrietoTorres