Jorge Dubcovsky earns “Discovery Award” from USDA for wheat research
University of California, Davis
October 15, 2007
UC Davis plant sciences professor Jorge Dubcovsky was honored Friday, Oct. 12, with the 2007 National Research Initiative “Discovery Award” from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for his genetics research enhancing the nutritional value of wheat.
USDA’s Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics, Gale Buchanan, presented Dubcovsky with the award during the annual College Celebration for the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
"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, Israel, 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 to 15 percent in the wheat varieties studied thus far. The researchers also found that commercial pasta and bread wheat varieties analyzed to date 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. Worldwide, more than 2 billion people are deficient in zinc and iron, and more than 160 million children under the age of five lack an adequate protein supply.
Only one Discovery Award is made each year. It recognizes outstanding researchers in agriculture who have worked on projects funded by USDA’s National Research Initiative, the largest peer-reviewed competitive grants program in the agency’s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service. The grants support research, extension, and education addressing key problems of national, regional, and multi-state importance in all components of agriculture.
“This really helped us bridge the gap that sometimes exists between basic research and the application of that research to real problems,” Dubcovsky said in receiving his award. “We are releasing new (wheat) varieties this year. We have done that with the new technologies we were able to implement and that would not have been possible without the support of this program.”
Dubcovsky, a native of Argentina, began his career at UC Davis as a visiting scientist with Dr. Jan Dvorak in 1992 and later joined the professorial ranks in the agronomy department. He now leads the UC Davis Wheat Breeding Program and Wheat Molecular Genetics Laboratory. Dubcovsky also leads a consortium of 20 public wheat-breeding programs, which is rapidly introducing valuable genes into U.S. wheat varieties with advanced molecular breeding techniques. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and an author of more than 120 publications and five U.S. patents.
“Jorge Dubcovsky’s Discovery Award is a well-deserved honor for a researcher with a consistent record of scientific accomplishment in one of our most important food crops,” said Neal Van Alfen, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “His leadership and genetics research is paving the way for the scientific community to increase the nutritional value of many cultivated wheat varieties and to improve the quality of life for millions of people.”
- Rich Engel, Director of College Relations, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, (530) 754-6249;
- Ann Filmer, Director of Communications, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, (530) 754-6788,
- John Stumbos, Senior Writer, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, (530) 754-4979,