The US-Israel Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund (BARD) recognized professors from the University of California, Davis and University of Haifa as world-class contributors to combating food insecurity.

In the organization’s 40 Year Review, they recognized Prof. Tzion Fahima, head of the Laboratory of Plant Genomics and Disease Resistance at the Institute of Evolution at the University of Haifa; and University of California, Davis’ Prof. Jorge Dubcovsky for their “outstanding scientific achievement and excellence” for their 20 year-study which successfully identified genes that increased grain protein content and conferred resistance to stripe rust (a fungal disease of wheat).

BARD, a “competitive funding program for mutually beneficial, mission-oriented, strategic and applied research of agricultural problems,” selected this initiative as one of its top three successful research programs out of 1330 projects to have taken place throughout the organization’s 40-year history.

The study developed a way to yield more protein and mineral-rich wheat grains which will help to improve its nutrition value. The research aimed to transfer increased protein and disease-resistant traits from wild emmer wheat to modern wheat varieties, without yield penalty, through marker-assisted breeding (MAB). This objective is important for increasing the nutritional value of wheat, increasing productivity (via decreased wheat loss) and reducing pesticide application, therefore contributing to food security and protection of the environment on a global scale.

“We have recently completed the BARD 40-year research impact assessment. The external review committee that oversaw the evaluation process was deeply impressed by your research approach and the exceptional outcomes of the successful genetic mapping and positional cloning research on wild emmer wheat,” BARD’s Executive Director, Prof. Yoram Kapulnik, wrote in a letter to Fahima.

“The introgression of the identified gene to increase wheat protein concentration and the multiple broad-spectrum stripe-rust resistance genes into new varieties of Bread Wheat is a stellar scientific breakthrough for research and is of the highest importance towards ensuring global nutritional stability, as exemplified by the impact of the research outcomes on wheat breeding programs globally, from Europe, to India, to Australia and North America,” he added.

Upon hearing the news, Prof. Fahima said, “This is a great honor for me and all my students, some of whom already hold senior positions in academia in research institutions in Israel and around the globe.”

Prof. Fahima who served as University of Haifa’s Director of the Institute of Evolution (2013-2019) was delighted that this recognition spotlights the great achievements of that academic body which also established a wild cereal gene bank at the University more than 40 years ago.

As for Davis’s Jorge Dubcovsky, an international leader in wheat genomics, he too, is no stranger to accolades. In 2014, he won the Wolf Prize in Agriculture and in 2017 was named the University of California, Davis’ Innovator of the Year.

“BARD has been essential to make our ideas a reality by providing support for many years. I am glad that our research in wheat improvement is featured in this BARD anniversary as an example of the value of research to our society, which is the main driver for our efforts,” Dubcovsky said.

Congratulating the professors, Kapulnik added, “There is no doubt that this achievement belongs to the scientists and it’s a testament to the excellent scientific cooperation between the two countries. As food security is being tested globally, it is highly important to promote these kinds of initiatives and continue to develop the knowledge, research and technology needed to ensure all have access to healthy, nutritious food. These kind of initiatives are the ones that can help make this possible.”

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