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USDA Honors California Researchers for Work in Developing Flood-Tolerant Rice

Media Contact: Jennifer Martin, (202) 720-8188

WASHINGTON, Dec. 5, 2008 - USDA Chief Scientist and Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics Gale Buchanan today presented the National Research Initiative (NRI) Discovery Award to Julia Bailey-Serres at the University of California-Riverside, Pam Ronald at the University of California-Davis and Dave Mackill at the International Rice Research Institute.  The team received the honor for their genetics research on flood-tolerant rice.

"This research will have a tremendous impact on the development of other crops resistant to flooding, potentially alleviating crop loss and protecting environmental resources," Buchanan said.  "Since rice is a staple food for more than 3 billion people globally, this project may also help farmers in developing countries."

Approximately one-fourth of the global rice crop is grown in low-lying fields prone to seasonal floods. Rice is the only cereal crop that can withstand submergence; however, most rice varieties will die if fully submerged more than four days, costing producers an estimated $1 billion in annual crop losses.

The trio identified a gene that enables rice to survive complete submergence. The discovery allows for development of a new rice variety that can withstand flooding.

The NRI Discovery Award highlights exceptional scientific and economic impacts of NRI-funded projects and recognizes outstanding researchers in agriculture who have supported the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) mission. The award includes a $10,000 supplement and a one-year extension of the project.  The NRI, the largest peer reviewed competitive grants program in CSREES, supports research, extension and education grants that address key problems of national, regional and multi-state importance in all components of agriculture.

Serres is a professor in the department of botany and plant sciences at UC-Riverside. She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and director of the Center for Plant Cell Biology's ChemGen Integrative Graduate Education and Research Trainee program at UC-Riverside.

Ronald is a professor of plant pathology and chair of the plant genomics program at UC-Davis.  She also serves as director of grass genetics at the Joint Bioenergy Research Institute in Emeryville, Calif.  She is a fellow of AAAS, a 2006 fellow at the Davis Humanities Institute and a 2008 fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.

Mackill is a senior scientist of plant breeding, genetics and biotechnology at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines.  He is a fellow of the Crop Science Society of America; secretary-general of Society for the Advancement of Breeding Research in Asia and Oceania (SABRAO) and a member of AAAS.

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, CSREES focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people's daily lives and the nation's future. For more information, visit