When it comes to the earth’s dwindling resources, climbing temperatures and burgeoning population, talk is as plentiful as it is cheap. It can also be contentious. But Dr. Pamela Ronald, professor of plant pathology at University of California, Davis, doesn’t have time for controversy. She’s too busy working toward an unassailable goal. “I’m focused on the greatest challenge of our time,” Ronald says, “which is how to feed the growing population without further destroying the environment.”
To that end, Ronald has made history. Twenty years ago, she and her colleagues at UC Davis isolated the plant-disease-battling Xa21 gene, found on the 11th chromosome of rice. The potential of this feat of genetic engineering was great; rice is relied upon to feed half the world. The New York Times heralded it a new agricultural era.
It’s an era Ronald has continued to help define. In 2006, she worked with David Mackill and Kenong Xu at IRRI to isolate the rice gene Submergence Tolerance 1 QTL, dubbed “Sub1.” Found in an ancient variety of rice, the Sub1 gene confers a flood tolerance trait to rice plants, allowing them to survive for up to two weeks underwater. A conventional rice plant will last only three or four days.
The Future of Farming
If anyone can help the public navigate the intersection of genetics, food and good health, it’s Pamela Ronald. While scientists worldwide are attempting to move genes from one species to another to confer various beneficial traits, Ronald may be singularly devoted to a holistic brand of sustainable agriculture. She is married to Raoul Adamchak, an organic farmer also working out of UC Davis. In 2010, they co-authored “Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food,” which describes the importance of ecologically based farming practices and genetically improved seed to sustainable agriculture.
Read full, original article: Can Plant Genetics Help Solve World Hunger? Science Says Yes