Natural genetic variation in plant populations is fundamentally important for plant growth and human welfare. Our focus is on drought tolerance, which impacts food production for farmers and families around the world.
As one example, shown is a rainfed field of maize and beans in a small village in Tanzania. Several months later the rains failed, and crops died across a large area. As the drought progressed, friends wrote “its not raining any more. people are starving because of no rain.” And later, “people are starving of hunger … really people are starving, others are dying but not yet in our village.” For reasons like these, understanding the interaction between plant traits and their environmental context is a research challenge with important consequences for human welfare.
Our drought research is focused on rice because it is genetically tractable and feeds about half of humanity. Drought is the most important stress impacting rice production on 23 million hectares of rainfed rice. With colleagues at Duke, the International Rice Research Institute, and the Africa Rice Center, we are engaged in an interdisciplinary collaboration that integrates root functional genomics, genetics, physiology, ecology, and natural genetic variation for dehydration avoidance traits and plant productivity associated with drought resistance in rice. Together, we are developing novel approaches for the integration of advanced laboratory results and agronomic field validation.