Huaijun Zhou Awarded the 2023 NAS Prize in Food & Agriculture Sciences
The world population is projected to reach nearly 10 billion people by 2050, requiring stable, widely accessible sources of food and nutrition. While livestock and poultry provide protein and essential micro and macro nutrients for human health, infectious diseases and heat stress from a changing climate are major challenges for animal production. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is awarding Dr. Huaijun Zhou of the University of California, Davis the 2023 NAS Prize in Food & Agriculture Sciences for his multidisciplinary approach to animal and poultry genome research, which supports improved global food security through genetic enhancement of poultry health and production efficiencies. His work includes a special emphasis on addressing the disease and climate challenges facing poultry producers in Africa.
The NAS Prize, endowed by the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is awarded annually to a mid-career scientist at a U.S. institution making 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 presented with a medal and $100,000 cash award.
Newcastle disease, a respiratory illness, is the most devastating poultry disease in Africa. The disease disrupts food security in low-income countries on the continent and impacts the livelihood of many women, who traditionally tend to chicken flocks both for their families’ sustenance and to earn income. Increasingly severe impacts of climate change also pose a threat to poultry production. Zhou’s research is identifying genetic variants in poultry that increase resilience to disease and heat stress.
As our global nutritional needs expand, it is critical that we find new solutions to both historical and emerging threats to our food sources. Dr. Zhou’s research to unlock the genetic tools to strengthen livestock and poultry agriculture is another step in ensuring food security in the coming decades. FFAR congratulates him on this prestigious prize.Saharah Moon Chapotin, Ph.D.
Zhou’s research is making genetic information about farm animals available to a greater range of stakeholders. Zhou’s team developed an economical genetic selection platform that will help breeders improve resilience to Newcastle disease infection, reduce virus shedding and improve production traits in poultry indigenous to the African continent. Zhou is leading a pioneering research effort to annotate farm animal genomes, which is helping science and industry identify genetic variants linked to economically important traits. These genome-based approaches are improving the efficiency, sustainability and biosecurity of livestock production.
Zhou is also tackling Salmonella, the leading cause of food-borne disease outbreaks in the U.S. Zhou’s research identified microorganisms that limit Salmonella growth in poultry gut, allowing the poultry industry to develop probiotics to reduce instances of Salmonella.
I am so grateful to receive such a recognition from the National Academy of Sciences and my peers,” said Zhou. “This award reflects that animal-sourced food is an essential part of the solution in addressing hunger, poverty and malnutrition, and how our basic research in animal genetics and genomics can have great impacts on the sustainability of agricultural improvement and global food security.Dr. Huaijun Zhou
Professor at University of California, Davis and Chancellor’s Fellow Director of USAID Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Genomics to Improve Poultry
Through this bold research, Zhou is building institutional and human capacity in low-income countries. In addition to breakthroughs impacting animal health and production and empowering women, Zhou is training scientists at Tanzania’s Sokoine University of Agriculture and the University of Ghana.
Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research
The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) builds public-private partnerships to fund bold research addressing big food and agriculture challenges. FFAR was established in the 2014 Farm Bill to increase public agriculture research investments, fill knowledge gaps and complement the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research agenda. FFAR’s model matches federal funding from Congress with private funding, delivering a powerful return on taxpayer investment. Through collaboration and partnerships, FFAR advances actionable science benefiting farmers, consumers and the environment.