Dr. Christina M. Grozinger
Pennsylvania State University
Lucyna Kurtyka, M.S.
In partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), we established The National Academies of Science (NAS) Prize in Food & Agriculture Sciences in 2017. The award recognizes extraordinary contributions to agriculture and understanding the biology of species important to food and agriculture production. The NAS Prize elevates food and agriculture research and highlights the critical need for scientists working toward more productive, sustainable agriculture.
The prize recognizes mid-career scientists at US institutions, working in scientific fields applicable to agriculture, including plant and animal sciences, microbiology, nutrition and food science, soil science, entomology, veterinary medicine and agricultural economics.
Annually, we award the prize to one recipient, who receives a medal and a $100,000 cash award.
Pennsylvania State University
Dr. Christina M. Grozinger, Distinguished Professor of Entomology and Director of the Center for Pollinator Research at Pennsylvania State University, is the 2021 recipient of the NAS Prize in Food & Agriculture Sciences.
Grozinger’s research seeks to understand the primary factors driving declines in wild and managed bee populations. She is working to develop approaches that can be used to support bees in urban, agricultural and natural landscapes. The Grozinger Lab uses an integrative approach encompassing genomics, physiology, behavior, chemical ecology and ecology.
Among many accomplishments, Grozinger’s Beescape project developed the Beescape decision support tool. This tool allows users to select sites across the continental US and obtain information to evaluate whether the surrounding foraging resources, nesting resources and applied insecticide toxic load makes that site hospitable to bees. This information can help beekeepers, growers and conservationists in making decisions about how to manage their sites to better support bee populations. Grozinger and her team are also integrating data on wild and managed bee health to generate models that use local information on habitat and weather conditions to predict how bees will fare at specific locations. Additionally, Grozinger has led several studies of the distributions of viruses and parasites in bee populations across the world. These studies helped identify emerging pathogens and conditions that might influence pathogen spread.
Grozinger’s research has demonstrated that access to high quality nutritional resources can improve bees’ resilience to diseases and pesticides. Her lab is currently working to better define bees’ nutritional needs so this information can be used to improve pollinator habitat restoration practices. She and her collaborators are screening diverse flowering plant species to identify those that will best support bee nutritional needs in natural, agricultural and urban landscapes.
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Dr. Zachary B. Lippman, a Jacob Goldfield Professor of Genetics at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Investigator, is the 2020 recipient of the NAS Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences.
A growing population, climate change and environmental sustainability inhibit crop productivity and threaten food security. Lippman’s research focuses on increasing crop productivity in the face of declining agricultural land and population growth. His research demonstrates that yields can be increased, new crops created and adapted to new environments, by harnessing genes that determine when, where and how many flowers are produced on a plant.
Specifically, Lippman studies how groups of stem cells become flowers, which ultimately give rise to fruits and seeds, making flowers vitally important to food production. He discovered timing mechanisms that control how many flowers a plant produces. This discovery allows him to control how much fruit and how many seeds a plant generated.
When combined with hormones that control flowering and gene editing, Lippman and his team embarked on a new frontier of quantitively fine-tuning traits in ways that were previously impossible, revealing principles that can improve productivity in all crops. Moreover, this newfound control of plant gene function and activity allows Lippman and his team to accelerate the time-consuming domestication process of a wild plant, the groundcherry, opening the door to the taming of many new and under-utilized crops to help meet global food demands.
USDA Agricultural Research Services
Dr. Elizabeth Ainsworth, a US Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service researcher and adjunct professor at the School of Integrative Biology at the University of Illinois, is the 2019 recipient of the NAS Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences.
Unprecedented atmospheric changes, such as climate change, can devastate crop productivity. Ainsworth’s pioneering research focuses on how the world will eat in the face of climate change and other threats. Her research reveals how man-made atmospheric changes affect the physiology and growth of crops around the world. Ainsworth is the lead investigator for the SoyFACE Global Change Research Facility, which is studying how crops respond to increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide and ozone, in combination with drought and other environmental stresses. The research is also identifying possible solutions. The work recently revealed that a large portion of corn and soybean harvested in the US was lost due to ozone pollution over the past 20 years.
North Carolina State University
Dr. Rodolphe Barrangou, an Associate Professor of Food Science and the Todd R. Klaenhammer Distinguished Scholar in Probiotics Research at North Carolina State University, is the 2018 recipient of the NAS Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences.
Bacteria and viruses in dairy products account for the loss of millions of gallons of milk globally. Barrangou’s pioneering research established CRISPR as the adaptive immune system of bacteria, a discovery which promoted the practical use of CRISPR-Cas systems for genome editing. His work has tremendous worldwide applications in food and agriculture, including virus resistance in the widely used yogurt starter culture, Streptococcus thermophilus and the potential for translational genome editing in other microbes, crops and livestock.
USDA Agriculture Research Service
Dr. Edward Buckler is the inaugural National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences recipient. Buckler, a US Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service researcher and adjunct professor of plant breeding and genetics at Cornell University, studies the connection between a crop plant’s genetic makeup and the physical traits exhibited by different strains.
Shortages in crops that provide vitamin A and other key nutrients threat nutrition and food security. Buckler’s research combats vitamin A deficiencies, a life-threatening issue in the developing world. Buckler and his colleagues used their findings to breed a new kind of maize with 15 times more vitamin A than conventional varieties. This biofortified maize is now widely available in Zambia, where more than half of children under the age of five are vitamin A deficient.
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