Pamela Ronald, the Joint BioEnergy Institute’s (JBEI) Scientific Lead for Plant Pathology in the Feedstocks division, has been named the 2020 World Agriculture Prize laureate by the Global Confederation of Higher Education Associations for Agricultural and Life Sciences, or GCHERA. Ronald is a distinguished professor in the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of California, Davis (one of JBEI’s six academic research partners) and with the UC Davis Genome Center. She becomes the first woman whose work is recognized by the award. The virtual award ceremony will be held on November 30.
“This award is a really special honor and I’m very grateful,” said Ronald. “I’m happy to be part of a global community of agricultural scientists that has been able to make a huge difference in the lives of farmers.”
Ronald is recognized for her history of major discoveries in plant molecular genetics. In 1995, she isolated a key immune receptor that revealed a new mechanism with which plants and animals detect and respond to infection. Her discovery in 2006, with David Mackill, of a rice submergence tolerance gene facilitated the development of high-yielding, flood-tolerant rice varieties that have benefited millions of farmers in South and Southeast Asia.
“Pamela was elected a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and is becoming one of the leaders and thinkers in modern agriculture,” said UC Berkeley professor David Zilberman in his nomination letter. “She has made major breakthroughs in developing solutions to major agricultural challenges and her work on public attitudes towards agricultural technology expanded our knowledge and influenced the real world.”
Ronald also directs the Institute for Food and Agricultural Literacy at UC Davis, which she established to provide the next generation of scientists with the training, support, and tools they need to become effective communicators and infuse scientifically sound information into the public discourse. In addition, Ronald is an affiliated scholar with the Center on Food Security and the Environment at Stanford University and a member of the Innovative Genomics Institute at UC Berkeley.
“Professor Ronald is extremely deserving of this high honor,” said Dean Helene Dillard of the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “Pam’s molecular discoveries and educational efforts have revolutionized our understanding of the role biotechnology can play in feeding the world while protecting the environment.”
She was named a National Geographic Innovator and one of the world’s 100 most influential people in biotechnology by Scientific American. With her collaborators, she received the 2012 Tech Award for the innovative use of technology to benefit humanity. Ronald co-authored Tomorrow’s Table with her husband, Raoul Adamchak, organic farmer and former manager at the UC Davis Student Farm. In it, they speak of the need to nourish a growing population without further destroying the environment. Her 2015 TED talk has been viewed by more than 1.8 million people. In 2019, she received the ASPB Leadership Award, an honorary doctorate from the Swedish Agricultural University, and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.
This article was adapted from a news release by UC Davis