Zachary B. Lippman Awarded the 2019 NAS Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences

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PRESS RELEASE – The National Academy of Sciences awarded the 2020 Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences to Dr. Zachary Lippman of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute for his work to accelerate crop improvement. The NAS Prize, endowed by the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is awarded annually to a scientist 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. The Prize is presented with a medal and $100,000 purse.

Lippman’s work is aimed at the challenges of increasing crop productivity in the face of declining agricultural land and population growth. His research has shown that yields can be increased, and new crops can be created and adapted to new environments using the genes that determine when, where and how many flowers are produced on a plant. As the Jacob Goldfield Professor of Genetics at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, he studies how groups of stem cells become flowers, which ultimately give rise to fruits and seed, making them vitally important to food production. In the last several years, Lippman discovered timing mechanisms that control how many flowers a plant will produce, which meant that he could develop approaches to control how much fruit and how many seeds a plant would make. When combined with known hormones that control flowering and the powerful tools of gene editing, this new knowledge allowed Lippman and his team to embark on a new frontier of quantitatively fine-tuning traits in ways that were never before possible, revealing principles that could be applied to all crops to improve productivity. Moreover, this newfound control of plant gene function and activity allowed Lippman and his team to accelerate the time-consuming domestication process of a wild plant, the groundcherry, opening the door to the taming of many new and under-utilized crops to help meet global food demands.

“I am honored to receive this recognition from the National Academy and my colleagues. It is a reflection of how fundamental discoveries in plant biology from my research program, enabled by government support, can result in impactful improvements to agriculture for the U.S. and beyond,” said Lippman.

The NAS Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences recognizes research by a mid-career scientist, defined as up to 20 years since completion of PhD, 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. 

“Dr. Lippman’s impressive work with gene editing and accelerated domestication is exactly the kind of innovation the food and agriculture industry needs to be resilient in the face of climate change,” said FFAR Executive Director Sally Rockey. “FFAR is proud to help recognize the great strides Dr. Lippman has taken.”

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