A Guest Post From FrankenFoodFacts: An Interview With Scientist Dr Nir Oksenberg

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Better Know a Scientist: Rice Research Scientist Dr Nir Oksenberg

In this month’s “Better Know a Scientist”, I’m interviewing Dr Nir Oksenberg. He works in a lab that actually makes transgenic crops!! Nir’s career seems to have taken a very windy road: he completed his PhD at UCSF studying a gene implicated in autism, but is doing his post-doc in Dr Pamela Ronald’s lab at UC Davis (if you aren’t familiar with Dr Pamela Ronald, please view her TED talk or her book “Tomorrow’s Table”. Her book is a fantastic read for anyone interested in learning about genetically modified crops and organic food). We “met” over the internet, when he kindly sent me an encouraging email on one of my articles. I have yet to take him up on his offer of visiting the lab in Davis, mostly because my kid would probably knock over someone’s research project or trample on a GMO that took a few years to make.
Q: Please explain what you’re currently working on (unless you will be assassinated for divulging it) and why it’s important?

A: My research focuses on how rice protects itself from environmental factors, which is particularly important in places in the world where people rely on rice for survival. Rice is a staple food for ½ the world’s population. However, 25% of rice is grown in flood prone areas. When rice is completely submerged in water due to floods, the plant will die after a few days, and the farmer will lose his or her crop. Pam Ronald and others were able to identify a gene that would cause rice to survive much better if completely submerged. Through breeding techniques (not GM technology), they were able to transfer this gene into strains of rice that farmers prefer and now millions of farmers in flood prone countries in mostly in South Asia are producing higher yields with the flood tolerant rice.

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