USDA Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics Gale Buchanan today presented the 2007 USDA National Research Initiative (NRI) Discovery Award to Jorge Dubcovsky at the University of California, Davis. Dubcovsky was honored for his genetics research in enhancing the nutritional value of wheat.

“Twenty percent of all calories consumed globally come from wheat-derived foods, such as bread and pasta,” Buchanan said. “Dr. Dubcovsky’s research offers a potential solution to nutritional deficiencies affecting hundreds of millions of children around the world.”

Dubcovsky and Dr. Tzion Fahima, at the University of Haifa, cloned a gene that controls levels of protein, iron and zinc in wheat. They designated the cloned gene GPC-B1 for its effect on grain protein content. GPC-B1 accelerates grain maturity and increases grain protein and micronutrient content by 10 percent to 15 percent in the wheat varieties studied so far.

The researchers also found that all commercial pasta and bread wheat varieties analyzed so far have a nonfunctional copy of the GPC gene, suggesting the gene was lost during the domestication of wheat. Reintroducing the functional gene into commercial wheat varieties could increase their nutritional value.

The NRI Discovery Award highlights exceptional scientific and economic impacts of NRI-funded projects and recognizes outstanding researchers in agriculture who have supported the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) mission. NRI, the largest peer reviewed competitive grants program in CSREES, supports research, extension and education grants that address key problems of national, regional and multi-state importance in all components of agriculture.

Dubcovsky is a professor in the department of plant sciences at UC Davis. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and an author of over 120 publications and five U.S. patents.

CSREES advances knowledge for agriculture, the environment, human health and well-being, and communities by supporting research, education, and extension programs in the Land-Grant University System and other partner organizations. For more information, visit http://www.csrees.usda.gov.