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Wheat geneticist Jorge Dubcovsky receives Wolf Prize in Agriculture

January 16, 2014

Jorge Dubcovsky in a greenhouse holding wheat

Jorge Dubcovsky's efforts to identify important wheat genes has led to hardier, more nutritious wheat varieties. (Steve Yeater/photo)

Jorge Dubcovsky, an acclaimed plant geneticist, international leader in wheat genomics and elected member of the National Academy of Sciences from the University of California, Davis, was today named a recipient of the 2014 Wolf Prize in Agriculture, sharing the prize with Leif Andersson from Uppsala University in Sweden.

The $100,000 Wolf Prizes are awarded annually by the Wolf Foundation to outstanding scientists and artists in the fields of agriculture, chemistry, physics, mathematics, medicine and the arts. This year five prizes were awarded to eight individuals in four countries.

Four other members of the UC Davis community have received the Wolf Prize in Agriculture in past years:  Harris Lewin, an animal scientist and vice chancellor of research (2011); Roger Beachy, a plant scientist and founding director of the UC Davis World Food Center (2001); Gurdev Khush, a plant scientist and adjunct professor in the Department of Plant Sciences (2000); and the late Shang Fa Yang, a plant scientist in what was then the Department of Vegetable Crops (1991).

The new Wolf Prize laureates will receive their awards in May from the president of Israel and Israel’s minister of education during a ceremony at the Knesset Building in Jerusalem.

In selecting Dubcovsky, the Wolf Foundation committee wrote that his research achievements are “truly impressive” and that Dubcovsky’s “combined basic and applied approach was able to dramatically improve the nutritional value of wheat, and the impact of the discoveries was increased when they were made available to the scientific community.”

Dubcovsky, a professor in the Department of Plant Sciences and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation investigator, was born and raised in Argentina.

He began his career teaching middle school science and math classes, and earned his bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from the University of Buenos Aires in 1984.

He received his doctoral degree in biological sciences in 1989 from the University of Buenos Aires. In 1992, interested in the techniques that were becoming available in the growing field of molecular biology, he came to UC Davis for a research fellowship under the direction of Professor Jan Dvorak. Employing such techniques, he and Dvorak used molecular markers to mine new information about plant biology and generated the first molecular genetics maps in wheat.

Dubcovsky joined the UC Davis faculty in 1996. During the past two decades, he has conducted pioneering research in mapping and isolating genes in wheat’s massive genome and deploying those genes in wheat cultivars. He and his laboratory colleagues have identified and cloned genes involved in disease resistance, protein content, flowering and frost tolerance. Identification of these important genes has enabled researchers and breeders to accelerate the development of more nutritious and better-adapted wheat varieties.

In 2011, Dubcovsky received a USDA Honor Award, the most prestigious award given by the agency’s secretary in recognition of exceptional leadership in science, public policy and management vital to guiding the nation’s food and agricultural system. In 2013, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors for scientists and engineers in the United States.

The Wolf Prizes are awarded by the Wolf Foundation, established in 1975 by the late German-born inventor, diplomat and philanthropist Dr. Ricardo Wolf. A resident of Cuba for many years, he became Fidel Castro's ambassador to Israel, where he lived until his death in 1981.

Five or six annual Wolf Prizes have been awarded since 1978 to outstanding scientists and artists. A total of 290 individuals from around the world, including this year’s laureates, have been honored with this prestigious prize.

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