By Jessica Dineen
When it comes to the earth’s dwindling resources, climbing temperatures and burgeoning population, talk is as plentiful as it is cheap. It can also be contentious. But Dr. Pamela Ronald, professor of plant pathology at University of California, Davis, doesn’t have time for controversy. She’s too busy working toward an unassailable goal. “I’m focused on the greatest challenge of our time,” Ronald says, “which is how to feed the growing population without further destroying the environment.”
To that end, Ronald has made history. Twenty years ago, she and her colleagues at UC Davis isolated the plant-disease-battling Xa21 gene, found on the 11th chromosome of rice. The potential of this feat of genetic engineering was great; rice is relied upon to feed half the world. The New York Times heralded it a new agricultural era.