Pamela C. Ronald is Professor in the Department of Plant Pathology and the Genome Center and Director of the Laboratory for Crop Genetics Innovation and Scientific Literacy (CGI) at the University of California, Davis. She also serves as Director of Grass Genetics at the Joint BioEnergy Institute. Her laboratory has genetically engineered rice for resistance to diseases and tolerance to flooding, which are serious problems of rice crops in Asia and Africa. Ronald's research has been published in Science, Nature and other leading peer-reviewed scientific journals, and has also been featured in The New York Times, Organic Gardening Magazine, Forbes Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, The Progressive Farmer, CNN, Discover Magazine, The Scientist, Popular Mechanics, Bill Gates blog, and National Public Radio.
Ronald received a B.A. from Reed College, an M.A. from Stanford University, an M.S. from Uppsala University, Sweden and her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley in 1990. She was a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University from 1990-1992. In 1992, Ronald joined UC Davis as a faculty member where she served as Faculty Assistant to the Provost from 2004-2007. From 2003-2007 Ronald chaired the UC Davis Distinguished Women in Science seminar series, an event designed to support women's professional advancement in the sciences. In 1996, Ronald founded the Genetic Resources Recognition Fund (GRRF), a UC Davis program to share benefits of biotechnology with less developed countries.
Pattern Recognition Receptor-mediated Immunity
The Ronald laboratory and the CGI study the innate immune response, using the host organism rice and the agriculturally important pathogen Xanthomonas oryzae pv. oryzae (Xoo). In the 1990s, through conversations with rice geneticist Gurdev Khush, Ronald became interested in the rice XA21 genetic locus, which conferred broad-spectrum resistance to Xoo. She hypothesized that Xa21 encoded a single protein that recognized a conserved microbial determinant.
In 1995, the Ronald laboratory isolated and characterized the rice XA21 pattern recognition receptor. Subsequent discoveries in flies, humans, mice, and Arabidopsis revealed that animals and other plant species also carry membrane-anchored receptors with striking structural similarities to XA21 and that these receptors also play key roles in the immune response. The significance of these discoveries was highlighted by the 2011 Nobel Prize in Medicine awarded to Jules Hoffman and Bruce Beutler, (jointly with Ralph Steinman), for their discoveries of the fly and mice receptors.
Tolerance to Abiotic Stress
In 1996, Ronald began a project with rice breeder David Mackill who had recently demonstrated that tolerance to complete submergence mapped to the Submergence tolerance 1 (Sub1) Quantitative trait locus (QTL). In 1997, the USDA awarded Ronald and Mackill a grant to isolate the Sub1 locus. Ronald’s laboratory led the positional cloning of the Sub1 QTL, revealed that it carried three ethylene response transcription factors (ERF) and demonstrated that one of the ERFs, which she designated Sub1A, was upregulated rapidly in response to submergence and conferred robust tolerance to submergence in transgenic plants . This work revealed an important mechanism with which plants control tolerance to abiotic stress and set the stage for in-depth molecular-genetic analyses of Sub1A-mediated processes with her collaborator Julia Bailey-Serres, who joined the project in 2003. Mackill’s team at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) generated and released several Sub1A varieties (developed through marker-assisted breeding) in seven countries including India, Indonesia and Bangladesh, where submergence destroys 4 million tons of rice each year, enough to feed 30 million people. In 2011, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Sub1 rice has reached over 1 million farmers.
Ronald co-authored the book "Tomorrow's Table: Organic Farming, Genetics and the Future of Food" with her husband, Raoul Adamchak. Tomorrow's Table was selected as one of the best books of 2008 by Seed Magazine and the Library Journal. In 2012, Tomorrow's Table was selected by The New Earth Archive as one of the 25 most powerful and influential books with the power to inspire college readers to change the world. Bill Gates calls the book “a fantastic piece of work”. Tomorrow's Table received positive reviews and the book has now been translated into Korean and Japanese. Click here to see a UC Berkeley School of Journalism video interview with Ronald and Adamchak about their book "Tomorrow's Table".
Ronald has worked towards recognizing the source nations and institutes that have contributed to making possible important scientific advances. In 1996, Ronald set up the Genetic Resources Recognition Fund (GRRF) at UC Davis. Some of the royalties derived from the licensing of academic discoveries using materials from developing countries can be used to fund fellowships, land conservation efforts, or other projects that will benefit the developing nation partner.
She now blogs for Food Matters at Scientific American.
Interviews and lectures
Awards and achievements
Ronald is an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She was awarded Fulbright (1984, 2012), Guggenheim (2000), and Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) (2008) Fellowships. She and her colleagues were recipients of the USDA 2008 National Research Initiative Discovery Award for their work on submergence tolerant rice. In 2009, they were finalists for the World Technology Award for Environment. In 2009, Ronald received the National Association of Science Writers Science in Society Journalism Award and was nominated for the Biotech Humanitarian Award. In 2011, Ronald was selected to be the Charles Valentine Riley lecturer, an annual event cosponsored by the AAAS and the World Food Prize Foundation. In 2011, Ronald was selected as one of the 100 most creative people in business by Fast Company Magazine. In 2012, Ronald was awarded the Louis Malassis International Scientific Prize for Agriculture and Food. In 2012, Ronald, Mackill and postdoctoral fellow Xu received the Tech Award 2012 for innovative use of technology to benefit humanity.
Chronological list of honors
- 2006 Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
- 2007 Fellow, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS)
- 2007 Xu et al. 2006 Sub1A paper selected by Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Science Award for outstanding scientific article
- 2007 Xu et al. 2006 Sub1A paper selected by Faculty of 1000 Biology as one of the most important advances in the field
- 2008 USDA National Research Initiative Discovery Award
- 2008 Tomorrow's Table selected as Outstanding Book of the Year by Seed Magazine
- 2009 Science in Society Journalism Award
- 2010 Professor as International Scholar, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Korea, Kyung Hee University
- 2011 Riley Lecture (Selected by the AAAS, US National Academies, Riley Foundation and the World Food Prize Committee)
- 2012 Fulbright-Tocqueville Distinguished Chair Award, Université de Montpellier 2 and the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement
- 2012 The Tech Award: Technology Benefiting Humanity
Ronald is the daughter of Patricia and Robert Ronald (Ne' Rosenthal). Her father Robert, a Jewish refugee, wrote a memoir entitled "Last Train to Freedom". Robert's father, Kurt Rosenthal, was the first cousin of Kathe Beutler, grandmother of Nobel Laureate Bruce Beutler who isolated TLR4. The Beutler and Rosenthal families fled Berlin after Hitler came to power and reunited in California after the war.
From the age of 12, Ronald spent each summer backpacking in the Sierra Nevada Wilderness where she developed a love for plant biology. As a college student at Reed she became intrigued by the interactions of plants with other organisms and for her senior thesis, studied the recolonization of Mt. St Helens, where Helen Stafford (1922-2011) was her thesis advisor.
Between 1961 and 1978, Ronald lived in San Mateo, California. She received her Bachelors degree from Reed College in Portland, Oregon. She carried out her graduate work at Stanford University, Uppsala University, Sweden and The University of California, Berkeley.
As a Fulbright Scholar in Sweden she studied how plants interact with mycorrhizal fungi with Nils Fries and as a graduate student began to study plant-bacterial interactions in the laboratory of Brian Staskawicz. She carried out her postdoctoral research in the laboratory of Steven Tanksley at Cornell University.
In 1996 she married Raoul Adamchak, an organic farmer. They have two children, Cliff and Audrey.
The song "Sierra Bound" by Rita Hosking from her 2013 CD Little Boat is about Ronald.
In 2013, Ronald retracted two scientific papers. Retraction watch, a website that shines light on problems with papers and educates and celebrates research ethics and good practice noted, "that this was a case of scientists doing the right thing". In a blog post at Scientific American , Ronald describes the 18 month process behind the retraction.
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- Organic Gardening. Retrieved 2012-06-02.
- Herper, Matthew (2010-03-01). "Green Genes". Forbes.com. Retrieved 2012-06-02.
- "Agriculture Markets, News and Weather". DTN/The Progressive Farmer. Retrieved 2012-06-02.
- "Fighting hunger with flood-tolerant rice". Indica.ucdavis.edu. 2009-02-05. doi:10.1146/annurev-arplant-042811-105518. Retrieved 2012-06-02.
- "Family Affair". The Scientist. 2011-04-01. Retrieved 2012-06-02.
- "6 Future Mods for Our Minds and Bodies". Popular Mechanics. Retrieved 2012-06-02.
- "Pamela Ronald and Raoul Adamchak's Tomorrow's Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food". Thegatesnotes.com. Retrieved 2012-06-02.
- "Thai Scientists Look for a Greener Rice Crop". NPR. Retrieved 2012-06-02.
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- Khush G.S. et al. 1990. A new gene for resistance to bacterial blight from O. longistaminata. Rice Genetics Newsletter, 121-122
- Ronald, P.C. et al. (1992). "Genetic and physical analysis of the rice bacterial blight disease resistance locus, Xa21". Mol Gen Genet 236: 113–120.
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- "FLS2: an LRR receptor-like kinase involved in the perception of the bacterial elicitor flagellin in Arabidopsis". Mol. Cell 5 (6): 1003–11. June 2000. doi:10.1016/S1097-2765(00)80265-8. PMID 10911994.
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- "Sub1A is an ethylene-response-factor-like gene that confers submergence tolerance to rice". Nature 442 (7103): 705–8. August 2006. doi:10.1038/nature04920. PMID 16900200.
- Jung, et al. (2010). "The submergence tolerance regulator Sub1A mediates stress-responsive expression of AP2/ERF transcription factors". Plant Physiology 152 (3): 1674–1692. doi:10.1104/pp.109.152157. PMC 2832257. PMID 20107022.
- Fukao, T. et al. (2006). "A variable cluster of ethylene response factor-like genes regulates metabolic and developmental acclimation responses to submergence in rice". Plant Cell 18 (8): 2021–2034. doi:10.1105/tpc.106.043000. PMC 1533987. PMID 16816135.
- Seo, Y.S. (2011). "Towards establishment of a rice stress response interactome". PLoS Genetics 7 (4): 1–12.