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Scientist investigates rice disease to boost food security

May 2, 2013
by Coleman Cornelius

A doctoral student at Colorado State University has earned a prestigious international fellowship and $180,000 in funding for research aimed at combating rice bacterial diseases, with the goal of boosting production of a primary staple crop for poverty-stricken people in Africa and Latin America.

Ana Maria Bossa Ana Maria Bossa is receiving the funding through the Monsanto Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program. The program is named for two of the world’s most eminent scientists, Henry Beachell and Norman Borlaug, who are credited with leading the Green Revolution and saving billions of lives through their work improving wheat and rice.

Bossa is one of just 12 doctoral students worldwide to earn one of the competitive fellowships, which provide $180,000 over four years, said Jan Leach, a CSU Distinguished Professor of plant pathology who is Bossa’s advisor. Leach is internationally known for research into rice and a main bacterial pathogen that attacks the plant.

Improving global food security

Ana Bossa“This prestigious award speaks to Ana’s exceptional capabilities as a scientist and her passion to help solve problems that affect the world’s poorest people,” Leach said.  “We look to the young Beachell-Borlaug Scholars to lead the next Green Revolution.”

Bossa, who is from Colombia and is studying in the CSU Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management, said she is motivated to help improve global food security.

Investigating diseases

With her project, called “Defeating Bacterial Diseases of Rice: Novel Resistance Sources for Rice Crops in Africa and Latin America,” Bossa is investigating three bacterial diseases prevalent in rice. In examining the interactions between bacteria and the plant, Bossa hopes to identify natural bacterial resistance in the rice genome to assist in developing new, hardy varieties of the staple crop.

“When these bacteria cause losses, the price of rice increases, and that affects farmers and consumers,” Bossa said. “My country has to import rice even though it is a primary crop in Colombia. The best contribution of science to this problem, from my point of view, is to find bacterial resistance in rice.”

Providing scholars with leadership skills

Monsanto has pledged $10 million to the Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program to provide fellowships to highly motivated Ph.D. students in rice or wheat plant breeding. The fellowships are meant to provide scholars with leadership skills, education and tools to help rice and wheat farmers around the world.

The company is focusing funding on rice and wheat because the two staple crops are critical to the food security of billions of people around the world and together feed more than half of the world’s population.  However, yield improvements in rice and wheat lag behind other crops.