Crop Genetics Innovation

Dr. Ronald with Bangladeshi villagers

(Photo credits: Gene Hettel, IRRI)

One of the greatest challenges of our time is to feed the growing population without further destroying the environment. The human population is projected to reach more than 9.7 billion people by 2050 from the current 7.9 billion. In addition to having more people on the planet, we are consuming more calories than we have done in the past. Some estimates indicate that if we are unable to reduce crop loss or alter our consumption patterns, we will need to double the yield of the major crops in the next few decades to keep up with food demands. At the same time, food security remains out of reach for people in many regions of the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, as many as 828 million people went hungry in 2021. Climate change presents additional challenges, including rising temperatures and a higher incidence of pests, diseases, droughts and floods, which already reduce global yields by 30-60% each year.

The Ronald lab studies genes that control resistance to disease and tolerance of environmental stress with the goal of improving food security for the world’s poorest farmers. We are also using CRISPR genome editing to help crops plants adapt to climate change and sequester more carbon into soils.