Washington, D.C.—Carnegie announced today that it will receive Phase II funding through Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative created by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that enables individuals worldwide to test bold ideas to address persistent health and development challenges.  Department of Plant Biology Director Wolf Frommer, together with a team of researchers from the International Rice Research Institute, Kansas State University, and Iowa State University, will continue to pursue an innovative global health research project, titled “Transformative Strategy for Controlling Rice Blight.”

“Rice bacterial blight is one of the major challenges to food security, and our project aims to achieve broad, durable resistance to it,” said Frommer. “We are excited to be working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to try and take the laboratory findings to a level that will enable possible implementation in the field, with the ultimate hope that we can contribute to food security, sustainable rice production, and increase in its supply in developing countries.”

In 2012, Frommer, jointly with Bing Yang from Iowa State University and Frank White from Kansas State University, was awarded a Phase I grant for the same rice blight-controlling program.  Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) Phase I recognizes individuals worldwide who are taking innovative approaches to some of the world’s toughest and persistent global health and development challenges.  GCE invests in the early stages of bold ideas that have real potential to solve the problems people in the developing world face every day.  Phase II recognizes those ideas that have made significant progress toward implementation. 

Frommer’s project is one of the Phase II Grand Challenges Explorations grants announced earlier this month. 

Bacterial blight disease in rice is a major problem for subsistence farmers in Asia, where nearly 60 percent of rice yield can be lost each year. With the introduction of Asian rice to Africa, bacterial blight is expected to become a major challenge there as well. There is no effective pesticide strategy for this pathogen.

Yang and White had originally discovered a rice gene that is critical for pathogen virulence and host susceptibility. Carnegie researchers on Frommer’s team identified how pathogens, rice bacterial blight in particular, attack plants by hijacking their sugar-transport systems. Together this laid the groundwork for the current project which involves adapting some novel, non-GMO technology, which was previously developed at by Yang to the rice blight disease process by blocking the access of pathogens to host-plant resources.

Partnered with leading experts on rice bacterial blight in Africa and Asia, Casiana Vera-Cruz and Ricardo Oliva at the International Rice Research Institute and bioinformatics expert Sanzhen Liu at Kansas State University, the project will provide enhanced understanding of the disease and apply the resistance strategies into existing rice breeding initiatives.

About Grand Challenges Explorations

Grand Challenges Explorations is a US$100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  Launched in 2008, over 1070 projects in over 60 countries have received Grand Challenges Explorations grants.  The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization.  The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with short two-page online applications and no preliminary data required.  Initial grants of US$100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to US$1 million.

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Plant Genetics