Feed the Future
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From rice pathology research to food security gains: An interview with Jan Leach

Two plant disease experts. Two camera angles. One detailed discussion on rice diseases and food security! The latest Agrilinks Video Note highlights the expertise of Dr. Jan Leach, Distinguished Professor at Colorado State University and Adjunct Scientist at the International Rice Research Institute. Jan was interviewed by Dr. Jean Ristaino, Jefferson Fellow at USAID and Distinguished Professor of Plant Pathology at NC State University.

As agricultural development practitioners are keenly aware, rice is the staple food crop for more than half the world's population. Combating the bacterial, viral, and fungal pathogens that reduce rice yields and quality is vital to achieving food security in developing countries. Jan Leach's research focuses on broad-spectrum resistance mechanisms that make rice plants resistant to two major bacterial diseases (bacterial blight and bacterial lead streak), as well as to other pathogens. Recently, Jan has also been collaborating with scientists to integrate nutrition and bioenergy traits into rice varieties alongside essential disease-resistance traits.

One of the many timely topics that Dr. Ristaino and Dr. Leach discuss in this interview is the utility of plant pathology research to climate change adaptation. Jan's team has found a resistance gene for bacterial blight that functions better at high temperatures — temperatures at which other resistance genes would fail. She is excited to determine the mechanism that allows for this improved functioning at elevated temperatures, with the goal of enabling that mechanism for other resistance genes.

Jan explains how her research, and her collaborations with IRRI, are relevant at the local level in Southeast Asia and other rice-dependent areas, and reminds practitioners that they need to "know their enemy" (i.e. identify local pathogens) so that appropriate rice varieties with the right resistance genes can be deployed. She also provides advice to young researchers who may be interested in international collaborations, encouraging them to stretch themselves and "give their research a broader purpose." Plant diseases limit food security in the developing world, and the work of plant pathologists is key to solving world hunger problems.

Watch the full interview to learn more about Jan's research and its current and future relevance to agricultural development practitioners.