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Leading female rice scientists, young researchers recognized for solutions to global food and nutrition security

17 October 2018, Singapore— Female scientists and early career researchers were among the seven trailblazing researchers honored at a special awards ceremony held on the last day of the 2018 International Rice Congress in Singapore.

This year’s awardees were selected for their innovative ideas and use of enabling technologies to contribute to a reliable supply of high quality, safe rice for a growing global population in the face of changing consumer needs, diminishing resources, and complex environmental challenges.

Dr. Tamal Lata Aditya and Dr. Amitha Bentota were conferred with the Senadhira Rice Research Award for Asian rice scientists working within a national agricultural research and extension system. In choosing this year’s awardees, special consideration was given to the applicants achievements in rice breeding and genetics, increasing tolerance for abiotic stresses, and improving micronutrient density -- the fields of expertise of the late Dr. Dharmawansa Senadhira, for whom the award was named.

Dr. Aditya has significantly contributed to the development and dissemination of over 12 improved rice varieties and 12 promising advanced breeding lines that primarily respond to drought and yield challenges. As Research Director of the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI), Dr. Aditya is instrumental in setting and implementing the institute’s research agenda; just last year, BRRI released its sixth conventionally bred biofortified high zinc rice variety.

Over the course of her career, Dr. Amitha Bentota has gradually shifted from rice research to a position of policy leadership at the Department of Agriculture in Sri Lanka, where she is currently Assistant Director of Agriculture. Her area of focus as a rice breeder and geneticist is addressing iron toxicity and acidity in soils and improving yield in these unfavorable conditions.

“Improving nutrition and responding to climatic and environmental challenges have emerged as the most pressing food security concerns that rice research can and should address,” says Jacqueline Hughes, Deputy Director General for Research at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). “That this year’s awardees are both women is a welcome coincidence, which blazes a trail for the next generation of scientists to follow.”

IRRI also honored promising early career researchers with the Young Scientists Award for Outstanding Scientific Accomplishments in the Advancement of Rice Science, awarded this year to Dr. Ting-Ying Wu and Dr. Aaron Michael Shew.

A Research Fellow at the Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory and National University of Singapore, Dr. Wu demonstrated the effectiveness of intracellular transport and improved storage capacity as a method of biofortifying rice with increased iron and zinc. To date, two billion people suffer from some form of micronutrient malnutrition –most commonly iron and zinc deficiencies—and biofortification is recognized as a complementary, food-based intervention to existing nutritional inventions.

Dr. Aaron Michael Shew, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, USDA Agricultural Research Service, University of Arkansas Centre for Advanced Spatial Technologies, investigates consumer valuations of biotech rice interventions associated with insect resistance. His research contributes significantly to an understanding of consumer preferences for conventional and advanced biotechnology products.

IRRI also recognized outstanding people from the community of former staff, scholars, interns, trainees, and postdoctoral fellows for their scientific contributions in rice research and innovation, particularly for work that has breathed life into IRRI’s strategic goals.

The Outstanding IRRI Alumni Awards were awarded to three scientists:

  • Dr. Muhammad Abdul Hamid Miah, former Executive Chairman of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council and former Director General of Bangladesh Rice Research Institute and Bangladesh Jute Research Institute
  • Dr. Phetmanyseng Xangsayasane, Deputy Director for Research Rice Research Center, National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Lao PDR
  • Dr. John Munji Kimani Centre Director and Rice and Cotton Breeder, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization and Mwea - Industrial Crops Research Centre.

“IRRI takes pride in spearheading initiatives that anticipate the trends, challenges, and demands of the rice-based agri-food system, remarked IRRI Director General Matthew Morell. “The young scientists and IRRI alumni recognized today may be at different stages of their research careers, but they share the same drive and determination to harness the power of scientific innovation in the service of humanity.”

The awards were presented on the final day of the 5th International Rice Congress. The IRC is an international event that highlights innovations and technologies to achieve a food- and nutrition-secure future for the world. Organized by IRRI, it is the world’s largest gathering of leading experts in agriculture, research, academia, and rice industry. This year, the conference attracted close to 1500 delegates from 40 countries. It featured over 300 research posters as well as 400 research presentations.