Dr. Esther Ngumbi is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Entomology, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Her research is investigating how plants such as corn and tomato respond to stresses including flooding, herbivory and drought. Specifically, we are looking at how these stresses alter plant chemistry. Plant chemistry mediates conversations between plants, insects, and plant associated microorganisms.
Underlying these plant chemistry changes are yet to be deciphered networks of genes and phytohormonal changes.In addition, I am investigating the role beneficial soil microbes such as plant growth promoting rhizobacteria and mycorrhizal fungi play in helping plants to grow better, fend off insects and and tolerate abiotic stress.
I grew up seeing these stresses plants face firsthand. I still remember how flooding detrimentally affected my patch of cabbage that I was growing when I was 7 years old. I still remember how we would work hard in the farm to grow crops. Halfway through the season, insects would come and eat half of our crop plants. What insects hadn't taken away, drought would. This inspired me to pursue a career and research that would allow me to learn about these stresses and find solutions. Today, as an Entomologist, my research is addressing these challenges. I am inspired to keep finding solutions. Because of climate change, the frequency and intensity of these stresses has increased. I am determined to keep finding the solutions. I will never tire. All the solutions ultimately allow us to sustainably grow our crops and -to feed humanity sustainably.