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Prof Melania Figueroa

Group Leader


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Dr. Figueroa is the Group Leader of Pests and Diseases in the Agriculture and Food Traits Program, an interdisciplinary group that addresses challenges in crops important to Australia and the world. The group includes five teams located in Canberra and one team in Brisbane. Together, the teams tackle challenges in legumes and cereals and conduct applied and basic research with a strong focus on industry delivery.

Dr. Figueroa grew up in Costa Rica. She received a B.S. in Biology from the University of Costa Rica (San Jose, Costa Rica) and a Ph.D. in Plant Pathology from the University of Arizona (Tucson, Arizona, U.S.A).
Dr. Figueroa was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology at Oregon State University (Corvallis, Oregon, U.S.A.) with support from a highly competitive National Science Foundation Minority Postdoctoral Fellowship. Following this, she was a Research Plant Pathologist with the United States Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Services in the Forage Seed and Cereal Research Unit when she accepted a position as Assistant Professor in the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Minnesota (St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.A). Prior to joining CSIRO, she received the rank of Associate Professor with tenure at the University of Minnesota. While at the University of Minnesota she has established a productive, independent research program that has had a major impact in the areas of effector biology and rust genomics, and disease resistance.

Dr. Figueroa's work is at the forefront for understanding the molecular basis of plant-microbe interactions and developing durable resistance in crops. In 2018, Dr. Figueroa received the 2018 American Phytopathological Society Syngenta Award in recognition of her contributions to research and most recently her role as scientific leader has been featured by program “Science and she: Empowering women in Science” by International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications (ISAAA). Dr. Figueroa is currently a Senior Editor for the Molecular Plant Microbe Interactions Journal.

Other Interests

dog training, bush walking, exercise and cooking

Achievements and Awards

  • 2019--

    Outstanding Mentor Award
    Department of Plant Pathology, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN, USA

  • 2018--

    Syngenta Award
    American Phytopathological Society

  • 2018--

    International Travel Grant Award
    The Global Programs and Strategy Alliance, University of Minnesota

  • 2016--

    Research Fellowship
    Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development

  • 2007-2010

    Minority Postdoctoral Research Fellowship
    National Science Foundation, USA

  • 2009--

    Travel Award
    22nd New Phytologist Symposium Effectors in Plant-Microbe Interactions.

  • 2006--

    Honorable mention
    SACNAS Genome Scholar Program

Current Roles

  • 2019 - present Group Leader of Pests and Diseases
    Implementing the vision and direction of the research program of the Pests and Diseases group, and contributes to its setting and planning, to deliver outputs, outcomes and impact through mission directed, multi-disciplinary and collaborative science.

Academic Qualifications

  • 2000

    B.Sc., Biology
    University of Costa Rica (San Jose, Costa Rica)

  • 2007

    Ph.D., Plant Pathology
    University of Arizona (Tucson, AZ, USA)

Professional Experiences

  • 2019-2019

    Associate Professor with tenure
    University of Minnesota, St.Paul, MN, U.S.A

  • 2013-2019

    Assistant Professor (tenure- track)
    University of Minnesota, St.Paul, MN, U.S.A

  • 2011-2013

    Postdoctoral Research Scientist
    USDA-ARS, Forage Seed and Cereal Research Unit , Corvallis, OR, U.S.A

  • 2007-2011

    Postdoctoral Reserach Fellow and Courtesy Faculty Member
    Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, U.S.A

Other highlights

  • 2021--

    Thank you Team CSIRO program highlights Figueroa for embodying our values and commitment to inclusivity 

  • 2021--

    The 'Science and she: Empowering women in Science' program by International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications features Dr. Figueroa's career

  • 2021--

    The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) Global Wheat Program highlights Dr. Figueroa as an inspiring woman in the wheat community to International Women’s Day

  • 2020--

    The Borlaug Global Rust Initiative interviews Dr. Figueroa about 'Ug99 And Somatic Hybridization: what it means for rust surveillance'


  • 2022-2025

    GRDC, Durable resistance to oat crown rust

  • 2022--

    Private industry, Identification of biofungicide targets

  • 2022-2025

    CSIRO R+ CERC Structural patterns in proteins recognized by the plant immune system

  • 2021-2023

    Genomic epidemiology of oat crown rust in Australia (in collaboration with the Australian National University)

  • 2021--

    GRDC, International opportunities to deliver oat crown resistance

  • 2020-2023

    CSIRO R+ CERC Genome-based diagnostics for pathogen surveillance

  • 2018-2019

    2Blades Foundation - Construction of a haplotype phased genome assembly for wheat stem rust

  • 2017-2021

    US DOE-Joint Genome Institute, Rust pangenomics: understanding the diversity and potential impact of rust fungi – a systematic collection of genomes & transcriptomes.

  • 2018-2021

    USDA NIFA-AFRI The contribution of the alternate host to virulence and diversity in oat crown rust

  • 2017-2019

    Minnesota Small Grains Initiative-Agricultural Experimental Station FY18 / FY19 Biennium, Genetic Improvement of oat against fungal diseases

  • 2017-2021

    US DOE-Joint Genome Institute, Gene atlas of diverse plant-microbe interactions in Brachypodium and Setaria

  • 2017-2018

    Pepsico, Inc, Genetic diversity in oat crown rust

  • 2017-2017

    Pepsico, Inc, Diversity crossing block in oat

  • 2016-2016

    OECD, Uncovering the genetic basis of virulence in Puccinia coronata via an intercontinental comparative genomics approach

  • 2015-2017

    Minnesota Small Grains Initiative-Agricultural Experimental Station FY16 / FY17 Biennium.,Assessment of disease resistance durability in oats

  • 2014-2018

    US DOE, Spatial connectomics to identify agents relevant to lignocellulose deconstruction in fungi

  • 2015-2017

    Pepsico, Inc, Screening core oat collection for crown rust and loose smut resistance

  • 2007-2010

    NSF, Comparison of the mode of action of two host-selective toxins

Community and Corporate Citizenship

  • 2022--

    Collaborating with the A&F communications team to update content and reflect our research

We have publications by Prof Melania Figueroa