The following is an excerpt of an article posted on the website Women You Should Know profiling UC Davis researcher Pamela Ronald, who has developed a flood-resistant genetically modified rice.
It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of rice for the human species. More than a fifth of all the calories consumed by humans are in the form of rice. In terms of nutrition, it is the globe’s most important staple crop, which means that when something goes wrong with rice, the humanitarian implications can be staggering.
And, believe me, rice has some powerful enemies. Rice blight, when it strikes, can wipe out eighty percent of a crop in a grotesquely brief amount of time, and worldwide is responsible for the loss of one hundred thousand tons of grain a year, which could feed just over 750,000 people. That is a terrifying number, but in magnitude it is dwarfed by the destruction wrought each year by water. Flooding has traditionally claimed about 4 million tons of rice every year, which could have gone to feed thirty million people.
Food loss on that scale has attracted all manner of traditional solutions over the years, but the breakthrough that finally created rice seeds strong enough to stand up to blight and flood came when Pamela Ronald (b. 1961), a plant biologist and geneticist at UC Davis, combined the know-how of evolution with the rigor of molecular biology and genetics to solve at last a problem as old as written history.
Ronald had always been intrigued by how plants interact with other organisms, how these seemingly passive living things hide within them a plethora of active responses to the hordes of micro and macroscopic beings attempting to do them in. In college, she studied how plants interface with fungi and the nature of plant-bacteria interactions when it struck her that the biggest problem she could devote her research to was the elucidation of how rice reacts to chemical and biological adversaries.
To read the entire profile, please visit the Women You Should Know website.