11 December 2017

Major award recognises UK and global impact of wheat scientist

World-leading wheat scientist, Dr Cristobal Uauy, has been awarded the prestigious Research Medal by The Royal Agricultural Society of England (RASE).

The RASE award recognises a string of benefits delivered by the work of Dr Uauy and his team in developing genomic techniques – and sharing them with national and international community of wheat researchers and breeders.

Dr Uauy, a project leader in crop genetics at the John Innes Centre, Norwich, uses modern molecular genetic approaches to identify genes which deliver yield and quality improvements to wheat.   

Valuable traits developed using these ground-breaking techniques include increased grain size, resistance to pests and pathogens, biofortification, and reduced pre-harvest sprouting.

  Sharing knowledge - Dr Cristobal Uauy

Dr Uauy has pioneered next generation sequencing approaches for marker development in wheat and facilitated the use of molecular markers (genes or DNA sequences associated with a particular trait) by breeders and researchers in the UK and across the globe.

“I am deeply honoured to be awarded the Royal Agricultural Society of England Research Medal. This is a recognition to our vibrant research team at the John Innes Centre and our drive to have impact on the agriculture sector,” said Dr Uauy.

“Since arriving in the UK eight years ago I have worked closely with breeders to understand the most pressing needs of UK agriculture and to envisage ways in which my team’s research could benefit farmers, consumers, and society at large.”

Achievements outlined in the award include:

  • Developing genomics resources to make wheat research more available including PolyMarker, a web-based portal which designs specific markers in wheat and is used by many UK and European molecular breeders
  • Creating the web resource wheat-expression.com which allows easy access to wheat gene expression data.  Another website wheat-training.com draws together information for breeders and researchers
  • Working with partners to develop and share a mutant resource wheat-tilling.com which allows users to search for potentially useful variation in bread and pasta wheat varieties

Dr Uauy has helped to develop collaborations with scientists in Kenya, Ethiopia, India and Brazil, which has led to him leading the John Innes Centre International Science Strategy. His work has appeared in 54 peer-reviewed publications and received more than 4,200 citations.

Professor Lars Ostergaard programme leader in crop genetics at the John Innes Centre, said: “This award is richly deserved. Cristobal’s programme on wheat genomics and genetics is unparalleled at the international level.

“The resources he has produced facilitate discoveries in wheat that would not have been possible – or even imaginable a few years ago.”

The Royal Agricultural Society of England is an independent charity dedicated to the application of science and technology to optimise agriculture and food resources to ensure a secure global future. 

The RASE awards recognise excellence in science and technology, the environment and business management.  The Research Medal is presented for research of outstanding merit carried out within the UK which is of benefit to agriculture.

For Dr Uauy, whose research is significantly funded by the BBSRC, the award is the latest stepping stone in a scientific career underpinned by a long-held ambition.

“Feeding the world perhaps sounds naïve but, from since I was young, my work comes from that motivation. I started studying agronomy and went on to research wheat straight away. People get over 20% of their energy and protein from wheat in most parts of the world. I wanted my work to have global impact.”

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