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Public Lecture To Explore Solutions To The Food Challenge

Tue, 05/25/2010 - 2:24pm
EurekAlert

RIVERSIDE, Calif. - Julia Bailey-Serres, a geneticist whose research on developing flood-tolerant rice is benefiting rice farmers worldwide, will give a free, public lecture at UC Riverside on June 3 in which she will discuss solutions to the challenge of improving crop yield in the face of climate change.

Titled "The Food Challenge: Waterproof Rice and Other Solutions," the hour-long lecture will begin at 7 p.m. in Room 302, Highlander Union Building, formerly the Commons. Doors open at 6:15 p.m. Seating is open.

In her talk, Bailey-Serres, a professor of genetics in UCR's Department of Botany and Plant Sciences, will talk about world population growth; hunger; the challenge of global food security; different types of plant stress; solutions to drought stress; and solutions to flooding stress.

"Climate change has a dramatic effect on agriculture," Bailey-Serres said. "Drought, heat, and flooding stress are just some of the consequences of climate change. For every one degree increase in average temperature during the growing season in the United States, it is anticipated that crop yields will decrease by 10 percent. Each year flooding events devastate crops in the United States and elsewhere."

As a plant biologist, Bailey-Serres is interested in how her work, which goes from DNA to proteins to the organism, can contribute to global food security. Her research focuses on unraveling the complexities of plant response to environmental challenges with the aim to provide modern solutions to agricultural challenges.

"Feeding the world's expanding population will require production of considerably more food," she said. "The current estimate is that yields of the major crops - corn, wheat, rice and soybean - will need to double by the year 2030. The anticipated increase in temperatures and weather extremes in crop growing areas necessitates the development of crops that are more able to adapt to extremes in environment. Solutions to this challenge include identifying genes that function to provide stress resilience, such as the rice Sub1A gene, which dramatically improves the survival of complete submergence.

"Now that we have the ability to make any rice cultivar submergence tolerant, we want to increase the tolerance," she said. "The goal is to make the plant capable of enduring the stress at different times in its life cycle."

For several years, Bailey-Serres's lab has worked on how plants endure periods of low oxygen. She explained that for a plant, low oxygen stress comes about when the root system is waterlogged or the entire plant is flooded. Specifically, her lab is studying the signal transduction that happens when oxygen levels fall; how change in environment is perceived; and how the plant cell responds to protect itself from the energy crisis that occurs when oxygen levels are limiting.

Bailey-Serres received her doctoral degree from Edinburgh University in 1986. She was a postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley from 1986-1990, sponsored by a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellowship and a USDA independent postdoctoral research fellowship. She brought her research on plant response to low oxygen stress to UCR in the summer of 1990 as an assistant professor.

She was awarded UCR's 2002 Outstanding Faculty Mentor - Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Mentoring Undergraduate Research. She was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2005. That year she also established UCR's first National Science Foundation-sponsored Integrative Graduate Education Research and Training (IGERT) Program that facilitates research interactions between biologists, chemists, computer scientists and engineers. In 2008, she held the F.C. Donders Chair in Plant Genomics at Utrecht University and was the lead recipient of the USDA National Research Initiative Discovery Award. This year, she was elected a fellow of the American Society of Plant Biologists.

Her talk is being hosted by UCR's College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences and the Science Circle, a group of university and community members committed to advancing science at UCR and in Inland Southern California.

The talk is the last of five lectures scheduled this year. The lecture series, titled "Global Climate Change: Causes, Impacts, Solutions," aims to boost the public's awareness and understanding of climate change and of how science works.

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