By Kim Kaplan, USDA Agriculture Research ServiceAgricultural Research Service (ARS) geneticist Edward Buckler will receive the National Academy of Science‘s first ever Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences for pioneering the use of large scale genomic approaches to associate genes with crop traits. This work gives plant breeders’ faster access to key genes and reduces the time needed to improve critical traits enhancing food security.
Buckler, who is already an NAS fellow, works at the ARS Plant, Soil and Nutrition Research Unit in Ithaca, New York. He has developed an encyclopedic amount of information about maize’s natural genetic diversity, which is allowing the best genetic variation to be rapidly combined to produce a more productive, sustainable crop while addressing specific needs such as disease tolerance, nutrient quality or growing environment.
Speeding such variety development is not just scientifically significant, but vital to the Nation and food security in the U.S. and elsewhere. Corn varieties bred for North American climates do not work in Africa, producing only about one-fifth the harvest as produced in the United States. Millions of hungry, poor people don’t have the hundred years it would take to repeat what conventional breeding did before, Buckler pointed out.
“Dr. Buckler represents one of the best and brightest of ARS’s scientific leaders. Ed not only sees the importance of being at the forefront of science but the value and significance of that science in service to the whole world,” said ARS Administrator Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young. “I am proud that he works for the Agricultural Research Service.”
Buckler and his collaborators have already developed maize varieties with 15 times the typical level of vitamin A—providing a solution to a common life-threatening deficiency in the developing world. He and his group also have addressed other agricultural traits crucial to improving food security such as local adaptation, drought tolerance, and disease resistance.
As a champion of open data and innovative partnerships, Buckler’s techniques for analyzing natural genomic diversity have become so widespread and affordable that they have been used on more than a thousand different species and even affected the study of the human genome. He and his group have also developed open-source software and databases for the analysis of natural variation, which are used by thousands of research groups around the world.
The NAS Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences recognizes research by a mid-career scientist at a U.S. institution who has made an extraordinary contribution to agriculture or to the understanding of the biology of a species fundamentally important to agriculture or food production. The prize is endowed through generous gifts from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The Agricultural Research Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture‘s chief scientific in-house research agency. The Agency strives to find solutions to agricultural problems affecting Americans every day. ARS conducts research to develop and transfer solutions to agricultural problems of high national priority and provide information access and dissemination to ensure high-quality, safe food and other agricultural products; assess the nutritional needs of Americans; sustain a competitive agricultural economy; enhance the natural resource base and the environment; and provide economic opportunities for rural citizens, communities, and society as a whole.