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Portrait of Food Production

Professor Jorge Dubcovsky is helping to feed the world by improving wheat’s resistance to diseases.

New research led by Dubcovsky, a plant scientist, is advancing worldwide food production by improving wheat’s resistance to fungal diseases — helping to sustain the grain that provides more than one-fifth of the calories consumed by people around the world.

Dubcovsky and a team of international colleagues recently discovered a gene in wheat that enables the plant to resist the stripe rust fungus. By identifying mechanisms of resistance at the molecular level, Dubcovsky and his team can make wheat more resistant to this devastating plant disease, which is a worldwide epidemic.

As head of the UC Davis wheat-breeding program, Dubcovsky is responsible for developing improved varieties for commercial wheat growers. Another gene he identified increases grain protein and iron content by 10 to 15 percent and is now being used by wheat breeders around the world. For this discovery, the U.S. Department of Agriculture honored him with the 2007 National Research Initiative Discovery Award.

In 2011, Dubcovsky was one of two UC Davis plant scientists selected to be among the first-ever class of HHMI-GBMF Investigators, which is funded jointly by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. The awards program, which will be supported with $75 million over the next five years, will help further Dubcovsky’s research on new genetic resources to improve wheat.

Dubcovsky said it is the collaborative approach UC Davis is so well known for that enables him to make groundbreaking discoveries that are quickly transferred to the marketplace, gain the attention of the scientific community and improve the qualities of this vital food crop for millions of people.

“It is a very integrated way of moving science to value,” Dubcovsky said.