Meet our Staff
Professor Helen Asemota is the current Director of the Biotechnology Centre at the University of the West Indies (UWI). A full Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology since 2003, and tenured since 1998, she has served UWI for over two decades. She served as Lecturer at Ahmadu Bello University in Northern Nigeria and at the University of Benin in mid-Western Nigeria and also as Full Professor at Shaw University, North Carolina in the USA. She has rendered consultancy services to various International Organizations inclusive of the European Union as technical expert; and the UN-FAO as International Biotechnology Consultant to different countries, inclusive of Syria and Tajikistan. She has trained over 30,000 students globally in her international academic profile, at undergraduate, graduate/postgraduate, PhD, and postdoctoral levels. She has held membership in renowned professional organizations, including the New York Academy of Science, Society of STEM Women of Color, USA, as a Founding Member, and has served in many local, regional and international Boards.
Professor Asemota’s research contributions include production and quality improvement of tuber crops – Yams, Dasheens, Coco-yams, Potato, Sweet potato and centered on Yams, through growth/development, propagation and storage, bio-mechanisms of engineered bioactives and naturally occurring bio-polymers, innovative fortification into value-added products, in her “From Farm to Finished Products” yam research drive. Other areas of her research are experimental diabetes, biochemistry of hypercholesterolemia/hyperlipidemia, cancer, drug addiction and derivation of metabolic mechanism of action of secondary metabolites or anti-nutritional factors and supplements in animal models of cardiovascular diseases, cancer and drug addiction. She has delved also into Nutraceutics & Natureceutics and other innovative products (such as BioSports Foods) development/bioengineering. Her research areas are multidisciplinary stemming across biochemistry, molecular biology, biotechnology, nanotechnology and bioengineering and she engages in wide collaboration/partnership ‘to get the job done’, locally and internationally.
Prof. Asemota has various UWI, local and international awards and over 350 publications consisting of more than 120 Refereed Journal publications, 4 patents; over 30 Technical Reports to International Agencies; Conference proceedings/abstracts and several book chapters, in the disciplines of biochemistry, biotechnology, molecular biology and bio-nanotechnology.
She has great experience in leading large international research groups and has been Principal Investigator (PI) in USA National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute of Health (NIH) grants, European Union (EU, EDF), United Nations-FAO, Jamaican National Health Foundation (NHF), etc. grants, and has supervised some 35 PhD studies. In August 2013, Professor Asemota was appointed the Executive Director of the University of the West Indies Biotechnology Centre. Her current trust is to promote agro-based solutions through biotechnology, and the exploitation of ‘biotechnology as a concept’ for the growth of insurgent bio-economy of the nation/region. She is currently (2017 – present) collaborating to propel integration of Biotechnology programme at High School level in the nation/region. “Catch them young for Biotechnology” is one of her current slogans. She works with local farmers ar grassroots level.
Professor Paula Tennant is a Research Plant Pathologist working with virus diseases of fruit crops at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica. Her work involves the identification of viruses of vegetables and fruit crops with an emphasis toward developing management strategies using Biotechnology as well as natural sources of tolerance or resistance from diverse gemplasm, including domestic and wild species. Close collaboration with Cornell University (New York, USA), The Biotechnology Centre, University of the West Indies, and the Jamaica Agricultural Development Foundation (JADF) has led to the establishment of the approrpiate regulatory structures to oversee the use and importation of agricultural biotechnology products in Jamaica and the development of virus resistant transgenic papaya.
Paula Tennant graduated from the University of the West Indies, Mona in 1990 with a B.Sc. in Botany. In 1996, she received a Ph.D. degree in Molecular Plant Pathology from Cornell University. Thereafter, she held post-doctoral positions at Cornell University (1996-1997) and the Biotechnology Centre, University of the West Indies, Mona (1997-2000). In 2000, she joined the faculty in the Department of Life Sciences as a lecturer and was promoted to Senior lecturer in 2008 and Professor in 2012. Maintaining ties with the Biotechnology Centre, she has written over one hundred publications on virus diseases of fruit and vegetable crops. Dr. Tennant co-teaches undergraduate courses in Molecular Biology, Virology and Plant Biotechnology.
Dr. Sylvia Adjoa Mitchell, Senior Lecturer, is Head of the Medicinal Plant Biotechnology Research, a group she initiated in 1999. She is trained in various aspects of technology commercialization and has over 32 years experience with plant tissue culture including seven years at the Scientific Research Council.
Dr Mitchell supervises research students in biotechnologies related to plant propagation, medicine and nutraceuticals. Her own research includes development of medicinal plant monographs, in vitro physiology, on-farm research, plant tissue culture (somatic embryogenesis and micropropagation) protocol development, soil ameliorants (biochar) and product development. Some of the plants that have been studied include ackee, arrowroot, bamboo, chainy root, fever grass, ginger, guinea hen weed, neem, pineapple, sarsaparilla, sweet potato, turmeric and yam. Thousands of farmers and many communities across Jamaica have been directly impacted by training or by provision of planting material. Publications include 27 refereed articles, an e-book, book chapters, conference papers, technical reports; newspaper and magazine articles. During this time, she has supervised 24 undergraduate projects, 5 MPhil, 5 MSc projects and 4 PhDs.
She believes the Caribbean has real potential to realize in the sustainable utilization of its' native plant biodiversity for food, herbs, species, fine chemicals, medicinals, nutraceuticals cosmeceutics, aromatherapy, furniture, and biofuels through the judicious use of biotechnology, a goal towards which she is diligently working.
Dr Mitchell has been a board member of the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ) and the College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE) and serves as the co-editor of the online newsletter of the Society for In Vitro Biology. Awards include UTECH award for contributions to Pharmacy in 2010, Best Paper award in 2016 from UWI for paper entitled ‘TRAMIL ethnomedicinal survey of Jamaica’, Appreciation Award from the BSJ for being part of the Technical Committee of the Year for Bamboo Standards in 2018, SIVB distinguished service award in 2015 and in February 2019 was named as a UWI graduate celebrated as one of the 70+ UWI Women of Distinction recognized for their outstanding achievements.
Professor Marcia Roye is the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research in the Faculty of Science and Technology. She has for years sought to build the research capacity at the UWI in the area of molecular virology resulting in 32 peer-reviewed publications and 60 conference presentations.She has developed numerous international collaborations with renowned institutions such as the Department of Plant Pathology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Institute of Human Virology (IHV), University of Maryland School of Medicine,The International Laboratory for Tropical Agricultural Biotechnology, Danforth Plant Science Centre,St. Louis, MO,University of Toronto, Mississauga and Centro Internacional dela Papa (TheInternational Potato Centre] (CIP),Lima Peru while garnering strong financial support from international collaborators.
Professor Roye's research forte was recognzed early locally through the award of the Scientific Research Council Shell Young Scientist Technologist award,2000, and in 2013 by the Jamaica Observer recognition at the "Women of our times" luncheon and awards. Her research has also attracted significant international attention including the award of the inaugural L'Oreal-UNESCO Special FellowshipInthe footsteps of Marie Curie. Through the fellowship,the L'Oreal Foundation and UNESCO acknowledged 'the scientific excellence and commitment of a woman who, in the ten years since receiving a UNESCO-L'Oreal International Fellowship, has pursued an outstanding career in scientific research and incarnates the future of science". In recognition of the fellowship she represented the L'Oreal Foundation at the Women's Forum Global Meeting 2011 in Deauville, France. She is also a recipient of Fulbright and UNESCO-L'Oreal fellowships.
Professor Roye's undergraduate teaching duties involve exposure to undergraduate students majoring in biochemistry, biotechnology, and microbiology and molecular.She is actively involved in academic counselling of undergraduates and prospective graduate students. A significant part her teaching is the supervision and mentoring research students and potential research students. Her research efforts have produced 15 graduate degrees (7 PhDs, 8 MPhil s) and 27 undergraduate students have also been trained in molecular virology.
Professor Noureddine Benkeblia is a Professor of Crop Science and Head of the Laboratory of Crop Science, Department of Life Sciences, Faculty of Science and Technology, University of the West Indies Mona Campus, Jamaica. He holds a B.Sc., M.Sc. and a Ph.D. in Food Sciences (Algeria), and Ph.D. in Crop Sciences (Japan). He is also the Coordinator of the Agricultural Programmes at UWI-Mona. His main research areas are (i) environmental stresses and physiology and biochemistry of crops, (ii) pre- and postharvest metabolomics of fresh crops, and (iii) postharvest metabolism of fresh crops. He is member of several scientific societies (CSSA, CSHS, CSA…etc.) and Editorial Board members and Editor/Associate Editor of few international scientific journals.