Wolf Prize Laureate in Agriculture 2022
Affiliation at the time of the award:
University of California, Davis, USA
“for pioneering work on disease resistance and environmental stress tolerance in rice”.
Ronald, a distinguished professor in the Department of Plant Pathology and the Genome Center at the University of California, Davis. She also serves as the director of grass genetics at the Joint Bioenergy Institute in Emeryville, California, and as the faculty director of the UC Davis Institute for Food and Agricultural Literacy.
One of the greatest challenges of our time is to feed the growing population without further destroying the environment. Because most of the world’s farmland is already under cultivation and fresh water is scarce, increased food production must largely take place more efficiently. To produce a successful crop each year, farmers must employ strategies to combat pests, diseases, and environmental stresses, which reduce global yields by 30-60% each year.
Ronald’s lab studies genes that control resistance to disease and tolerance of environmental stress with the goal of improving food security for the world’s poorest farmers. Together with her collaborators, she has engineered rice for resistance to disease and tolerance to flooding, which seriously threatens rice crops in Asia and Africa.
Pamela Ronald has spent three decades studying rice, a staple food for more than half of the world’s population. Her discoveries show an advanced understanding of fundamental biological processes and enhance sustainable agriculture and food security. Ronald’s team isolated a gene that allows rice to survive two weeks of flooding and increases yield by 60% compared with conventional varieties. Her research facilitated the development of flood-tolerant rice varieties now grown by more than 6 million subsistence farmers in India and Bangladesh, where 4 million tons of rice, enough to feed 30 million people, is lost each year to flooding.
Ronald’s isolation of the Xa21 immune receptor in 1995, the first member of this important class of receptors to be identified, revealed a new mechanism with which plants and animals detect and respond to infection. In 2015, her team isolated and characterized the receptor-ligand, a microbial immunogen, that triggers both developmental and immunological responses in the host. These breakthrough studies continue to have implications for studies of infectious diseases of both plants and animals.
Ronald is widely recognized for innovative and effective public engagement with the goal of advancing agricultural sustainability. Ronald’s lectures and writings, and in particular her book with her husband, Raoul Adamchak, established a new paradigm where biotechnologies and organic agriculture are integrated as a base for sustainable farming, and as a way of coexistence for environmentalists and technologists.