Pamela Ronald

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Pamela C. Ronald
Pamela Ronald and Raoul Adamchak
Born 1961
Residence U.S.
Nationality United States
Alma mater Reed College
Scientific career
Fields Plant biology, Microbiology, Genetics
Institutions University of California, Davis
Doctoral advisor Brian Staskawicz

Pamela C. Ronald (born 1961) is an American plant pathologist and geneticist.[1] She is a professor in the Genome Center and the Department of Plant Pathology,[2] and founding faculty director of the Institute for Food and Agricultural Literacy (IFAL), all at the University of California, Davis.[3] She also serves as Director of Grass Genetics at the Joint BioEnergy Institute in Emeryville, California.[2]

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,[4] Organic Gardening Magazine,[5] Forbes Magazine,[6] The Wall Street Journal, The Progressive Farmer,[7] CNN,[8] Discover Magazine, The Scientist,[9] Popular Mechanics,[10] Bill Gates blog,[11] National Public Radio[12] and National Geographic.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

External media
“Episode 203: Genetic Engineering and Organic Farming: An Unexpected Marriage” (includes interview with Pamela C. Ronald and Raoul Adamchak), Science History Institute
“Pamela Ronald: The Case for Engineering our Food“, TED Talks
“GMOrganic: A Botanical Love Story“

Pamela Ronald was born in 1961 to Patricia (née Fobes) and Robert Ronald of San Mateo, California. Robert Ronald, a Jewish refugee who was born Robert Rosenthal, wrote a memoir entitled "Last Train to Freedom".[13][14] From an early age, Ronald spent time backpacking in the Sierra Nevada wilderness, sparking her love for plant biology.[2]

As a student at Reed College with Helen Stafford (1922–2011),[15] Ronald became intrigued by the interactions of plants with other organisms. For her senior thesis, she studied the recolonization of Mt. St Helens. Ronald received a B.A. in Biology from Reed College in 1982.[16][17]

She went on to earn an M.A. in Biology from Stanford University in 1984 and an M.S. from Uppsala University, Sweden in plant physiology in 1985.[18] As a Fulbright Scholar in Sweden she visited Nils Fries and studied how plants interact with mycorrhizal fungi.[14]

As a graduate student at UC Berkeley, she began to study plant-bacterial interactions in the laboratory of Brian Staskawicz, working with peppers and tomatoes.[1][19] Realizing that rice is the biggest food staple in the world, she decided to study rice, determining her future career.[1] She received her Ph.D. in molecular and physiological plant biology in 1990.[18] She was a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University from 1990–1992 in the laboratory of Steven Tanksley.[18][20]

In 1996 she married Raoul Adamchak, an organic farmer.[21] They have two children, Cliff and Audrey.[20]

Career and research[edit]

Speaking at the March for Science San Francisco, April 2017

In 1992, Ronald joined UC Davis as a faculty member. 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. She served as Faculty Assistant to the Provost from 2004–2007.[22]

In addition to being a professor in the Genome Center and the Department of Plant Pathology at UC Davis,[2] Ronald is the founding faculty director of the Institute for Food and Agricultural Literacy (IFAL) at the University of California, Davis.[3] She also serves as Director of Grass Genetics at the Joint BioEnergy Institute in Emeryville, California.[2]

Ronald is a vocal advocate for science and for sustainable agriculture. Her laboratory has been instrumental in the development of rice that is disease-resistant and flood-tolerant.[23]

Xa21: Pattern recognition receptor-mediated immunity[edit]

The Ronald laboratory studies 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.[24][25] She hypothesized that Xa21 encoded a single protein that recognized a conserved microbial determinant.[26]

In 1995, the Ronald laboratory isolated and characterized the rice XA21 pattern recognition receptor.[2][27][28] Subsequent discoveries in flies,[29] humans,[30] mice,[31] and Arabidopsis[32] 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.[33] For their discoveries of the fly and mice receptors, Jules Hoffman and Bruce Beutler received the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (jointly with Ralph Steinman), indicating the importance of such research.[34]

This work resulted in part from the identification of a blight-resistant rice strain from Mali, Oryza longistaminata, in the late 1970s. The strain was studied and bred at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños, Philippines. Ronald's group subsequently mapped, sequenced, and cloned the Xa21 gene from this rice strain. When US patent 5859339 was granted to the University of California for this gene, CGIAR criticized the patent as failing to properly compensate Malian farmers. In response, UC Davis allowed noncommercial use of the gene and released the gene to IRRI for the development of rice strains to be grown in developing nations.[35][36]

Paper retraction[edit]

In 2009[28] and 2011,[37] Ronald's laboratory reported on the discovery of a bacterial protein that they believed was the activator of Xa21-mediated immunity. These reports were described by ScienceWatch as "hot" and "highly cited".[38] In 2013, Ronald retracted both scientific papers, notifying the scientific community that two bacterial strains, Ax21 and RaxSt, had been confused.[39][40] The error was discovered when new laboratory members Rory Pruitt and Benjamin Schwessinger[41] were unable to replicate previous results. As a result, the laboratory carried out a lengthy and painstaking process, re-confirming the genotypes of all the laboratory strains in their collection. Examination of the bacterial strains and rice seed stocks indicated that one of the bacterial strains involved in key experiments had been mislabeled. Researchers also discovered that results of one of the tests that had been performed were highly variable. In a blog post at Scientific American, Ronald describes the 18-month process leading to the retraction.[42] The retractions were also reported on by The Scientist.[43] Retraction watch, a website that shines light on problems with papers and educates and celebrates research ethics and good practices stated, "that this was a case of scientists doing the right thing".[40] As part of a story about the importance of setting the record straight, in 2014, Nature magazine also covered the Ronald retraction.[44]

RaxX as a mediator of Xa21[edit]

For two more years Ronald's laboratory repeated critical experiments and carried out new ones. In redoing their work, they introduced new procedures and controls to ensure that they were getting it right. Ronald reports that she was amazed not only by the perseverance and loyalty of her team, but also by the community support that she received during this difficult time.[45] In 2015, Ronald published the discovery of the predicted ligand of XA21, a sulfated peptide called RaxX, correcting their mistake and bringing the research team full circle.[41][46]

Genetic Resources Recognition Fund[edit]

Ronald has sought ways to recognize source nations and institutions that have contributed to important scientific advances, such as . Working with law professor John Barton, Ronald tried to establish a benefit-sharing model for the source countries of genetically important plant varieties. In 1996, Ronald founded the Genetic Resources Recognition Fund (GRRF) at UC Davis. The intention of the fund was to collect payments from the licensing of academic discoveries that utilized plant materials from developing countries, and to redistribute those monies to source countries through fellowships, land conservation efforts, or other projects of benefit to nation partners.[20]:142–147[47][48][49][50]

Sub1: Tolerance to abiotic stress[edit]

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 .[51] 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.[52][53][54] 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 four million tons of rice each year, enough to feed 30 million people.[55] With support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,[56] Sub1 rice has reached over four million farmers.[57]

Public engagement[edit]

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[58] and the Library Journal.[59]

In addition to her scholarly publications, Ronald has written for The New York Times,[60] The Boston Globe,[61] Forbes Magazine,[62] Scientific American,[63] The Harvard International Review,[64] The Economist, the Boston review[65] and the MIT Technology Review.[66]

The song "Sierra Bound", from Rita Hosking's 2013 CD Little Boat, is dedicated to Pamela Ronald.

Awards and honors[edit]

Ronald was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2006.[67] In addition to being a Fulbright Fellow in 1984–1985,[68] she was named the Fulbright-Tocqueville Distinguished Chair in 2012.[18][69] She has also received a Guggenheim Fellowship (1999–2000),[70] and was a Fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science in 2008.[71]

She and her colleagues have received a number of awards for their work on submergence tolerant rice. They were recipients of the USDA National Research Initiative Discovery Award in 2008,[71] and finalists for the World Technology Award for Environment in 2009.[72] In 2009, Ronald was nominated for the Biotech Humanitarian Award.[73] In 2012, Ronald, Mackill, and postdoctoral fellow Xu received the Tech Award 2012 for innovative use of technology to benefit humanity.[74]

Chronological list of honors[edit]

  • 1984-1985, Fulbright Fellow[68]
  • 1999-2000, Guggenheim Fellowship[70]
  • 2006 elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)[67]
  • 2006 Fellow at the Davis Humanities Institute[71]
  • 2008 Fellow, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS)[71]
  • 2008 USDA National Research Initiative Discovery Award[71]
  • 2009 Science in Society Journalism Award from the National Association of Science Writers in Society for her commentary "The New Organic" of March 16, 2008, on the Boston Globe website[75]
  • 2011 Charles Valentine Riley lecturer (Selected by the AAAS, US National Academies, Riley Foundation and the World Food Prize Committee)[76]
  • 2011 Fast Company magazine named Ronald one of the 100 most creative people.[73]
  • 2012 Fulbright-Tocqueville Distinguished Chair Award, Université de Montpellier 2 and the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement[18]
  • 2012, Louis Malassis International Scientific Prize for Agriculture and Food[77]
  • 2012 The Tech Award: Technology Benefiting Humanity[74]
  • 2015 Scientific American named Ronald one of the World’s 100 most influential people in biotechnology[78]
  • 2016 Ronald named Breakthrough Fellow


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  31. ^ Poltorak, A.; et al. (11 December 1998). "Defective LPS Signaling in C3H/HeJ and C57BL/10ScCr Mice: Mutations in Tlr4 Gene". Science. 282 (5396): 2085–2088. doi:10.1126/science.282.5396.2085. PMID 9851930. 
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  33. ^ Ronald, P. C.; Beutler, B. (18 November 2010). "Plant and Animal Sensors of Conserved Microbial Signatures". Science. 330 (6007): 1061–1064. doi:10.1126/science.1189468. PMID 21097929. 
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  37. ^ Han, Sang-Wook; Sriariyanun, Malinee; Lee, Sang-Won; Sharma, Manoj; Bahar, Ofir; Bower, Zachary; Ronald, Pamela C.; Chakravortty, Dipshikha (12 December 2011). "Small Protein-Mediated Quorum Sensing in a Gram-Negative Bacterium". PLoS ONE. 6 (12): e29192. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0029192. 
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  39. ^ "Doing the right thing: Researchers retract quorum sensing paper after public process". Retraction Watch. Retrieved 2016-01-22. 
  40. ^ a b "Pamela Ronald does the right thing again, retracting a Science paper". Retraction Watch. Retrieved 2016-01-05. 
  41. ^ a b Gewin, Virginia (24 July 2015). "Rice researchers redress retraction". Nature. doi:10.1038/nature.2015.18055. Retrieved 22 January 2016. 
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  43. ^ Yong, Ed (October 10, 2013). "Mislabeled Microbes Cause Two Retractions". The Scientist. 
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  58. ^ "Seed Picks 2008: Seed Picks 2008 Seed Picks Seed selects the year's outstanding book releases, from Mary Roach's sex book, Bonk, to E.O. Wilson's ant colony opus, The Superorganism". Seed Magazine. December 23, 2008. 
  59. ^ "Tomorrow's table (Review)". Library Journal. Retrieved April 15, 2008. 
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External links[edit]