Dubcovsky wins fellowship to help feed the planet

Wheat Geneticist Jorge Dubcovsky is one of two plant biologists at UC Davis among the first-ever class of HHMI-GBMF Investigators, funded jointly by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Jorge Dubcovsky, professor in the Department of Plant Sciences, and Simon Chan, assistant professor in the Department of Plant Biology, are among 15 recipients nationwide of the new awards program, to be supported with $75 million from the two organizations over the next five years.

Jorge DubcovskyLike the other recipients, Dubcovsky’s award will cover his salary and benefits for five years plus provide funds for equipment, lab space and other research needs, freeing him from the time-consuming task of seeking grants.

“The effect of this award is huge,” Dubcovsky said. “It gives me the opportunity to think broadly in what needs to be done in my field and go after it, rather than spend my time trying to write proposals that adjust to the specific goals of various grants with a small chance of success. The HHMI-GBMF long term support provides me the flexibility to address important questions in developing functional genomic tools for the wheat community.”

The Dubcovsky lab has been at the forefront in developing genetic resources for improving the yield, disease-resistance and nutrition of wheat, one of the most widely grown cereal crops on the planet.

“We are now working to sequence our wheat TILLING (Targeting Induced Local Lesions IN Genomes) populations using high throughput sequencing so people can access mutations in all genes with a simple web search,” Dubcovsky said. “This will empower everybody to do deeper into functional gene analyses in wheat. This support will also help me to pursue my interest in the developmental regulatory networks and their effect on major agronomic traits: heading date, spike development and its effect on yield and nutrient remobilization.”

Dubcovsky’s work, as with all the HHMI-GBMR award-winners, is designed to help avert a looming global food crisis.

“I congratulate professors Chan and Dubcovsky on this great honor, to be recognized by these leading foundations as two of the most innovative plant scientists in the country,” said UC Davis Chancellor Linda P. B. Katehi. “It is also tremendous recognition for UC Davis as a whole, as one of the nation’s – and the world’s -- leading centers for research in plant biology, making advances that will bring benefits in food production, as well as in health, energy and the environment.”

Dubcovsky said he was thrilled and surprised to learn of his selection for this unique grant.

“I know several colleagues that applied who I believe deserve it more than I do,” Dubcovsky said. “I hope they do one more competition in plants to incorporate these brilliant plant researchers.”

In announcing the new funding programming, the HHMI and Moore Foundation said, “Despite the central role plants play in maintaining human health and in health care, basic research in the plant sciences has been historically underfunded.”

Dubcovsky agrees.

“This investment will have a huge impact in advancing plant sciences at a time when food prices are rising and demand is so great,” Dubcovsky said. “I think we, as a society, have underinvested in agricultural research and are lagging behind in productivity. Increases in food prices have a very serious impact on those with limited resources. Investments in agricultural research can help us meet this demand faster.”