Edward Buckler wins inaugural NAS prize in food, ag sciences

Edward Buckler

Edward Buckler, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Cornell plant geneticist, has received the inaugural 2017 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences.

The $100,000 award will be presented April 30 in Washington, D.C., at the NAS Annual Meeting.

The prize recognizes research by a midcareer scientist at a U.S. institution who has made an extraordinary contribution to agriculture or to the understanding of the biology of a species fundamentally important to agriculture or food production. Buckler’s work focuses on nutrition and food security.

“This award reflects how great teams of scientists have been able to tap natural diversity with powerful new tools to address the challenges facing society, agriculture and the environment today,” said Buckler, a research geneticist at the USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS), and adjunct professor of plant breeding and genetics at the Institute for Genomic Diversity at Cornell.

Buckler’s lab pioneered the use of genomewide association studies in plants, providing critical insights into crop genetics, crop genomes and plant diversity. By examining the genetic causes of natural variation in different strains of maize and other plants, Buckler and his collaborators have developed maize varieties with 15 times the level of vitamin A – providing a solution to a life-threatening deficiency in the developing world. He and his group have also addressed critical agricultural issues necessary for world food security, such as hybrid vigor, local adaptation, drought tolerance and disease resistance.

Buckler’s techniques for the analysis of natural genomic diversity have become so widespread and affordable that they have been used on more than 1,000 different species and have affected the study of the human genome. He and his group have also developed open-source software and databases for the analysis of natural variation, which are used by thousands of research groups around the world.

Buckler received his doctorate (1997) in biological sciences from the University of Missouri-Columbia. He served as an assistant professor of genetics and a USDA–ARS research geneticist at North Carolina State University from 1998 to 2003, before starting at the USDA/ARS Robert W. Holley Center for Agriculture and Health at Cornell in 2003.

He is a recipient of the ARS’s Outstanding Early Career and Senior Scientist awards; the Arthur S. Fleming Award, given by the U.S. government for outstanding service at a federal agency; USDA Secretary’s Honor Award for developing the science for improving agricultural productivity; and is an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences.

The NAS Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences is endowed through gifts from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Melissa Osgood