P3 scientist shortlisted for Newton Prize

Posted on October 18, 2017 in News by . Share this article

Professor Julie Gray, a scientist in the Plant Production and Protection (P3) Centre at the University of Sheffield has been shortlisted for one of the 2017 Newton Prizes.

Professor Gray was shortlisted for the prize along with her research colleagues Dr Apichart Vanavichit of the Rice Gene Discovery Unit at Kasetsart University in Bangkok, Thailand and Professor W. Paul Quick who holds research positions at Sheffield and the International Rice Research Institute, Philippines. Together this international team is identifying and creating rice cultivars with altered requirements for water or with enhanced heat tolerance that are suitable as crops for Thailand.  The project is funded by the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the National Science and Technology Development Agency in Thailand.

Professor Gray’s research focusses on the microscopic pores that open to allow carbon dioxide into leaves for photosynthesis and close to reduce water loss. The plant’s ability to control stomatal opening is key to its being able to adapt to its environment thus creating a productive crop.

The shortlisted international rice research team, which came together in 2014, has already identified and created rice plants that have altered number of stomata that could be grown in drier or hotter areas.

Professor Gray said of the Prize, “I am delighted that I and my colleagues were shortlisted for this prize because such recognition highlights the importance of our research. Working as part of a multinational team is such a rewarding experience and really helps us get to the nub of a research problem. I have been able to work with the teams in Thailand and the Philippines and take what I have discovered in my Sheffield laboratory, out into the field in Thailand where production of improved rice crops will be of major economic importance.”

Northeast Thailand is the premiere region for growing traditional fragrant Jasmine rice. However rice farmers in this area remain persistently poor because Thai Jasmine rice can only be cropped once a year in its low-land rain-fed agricultural system. Erratic rainfall often forces farmers to replant the crop twice or more. Professor Gray’s research in optimising stomatal characteristics has the potential to improve seedling establishment and perhaps allow two crops of Jasmine rice per annum. That could reduce poverty in Northeast Thailand and improve global food security.

The Newton Prizes are being presented at country-specific events held in November. The prizes are awarded for the best research or innovation that promotes the economic development and social welfare of Newton partner countries, Development Assistance Committee (DAC) List Countries or addresses global challenges, aligning with and strengthening the Newton Fund’s overall objectives. More information about the Newton Prize is available at newtonfund.ac.uk/newtonprize/.

For further information please contact: Professor Julie Gray, University of Sheffield, 0114 222 4407, j.e.gray@sheffield.ac.uk

To read other news items from the P3 Centre at the University of Sheffield, visit p3.sheffield.ac.uk/news/