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Zachary B. Lippman, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, received the 2020 NAS Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences.

Lippman studies the genetics of when and where plants produce flowers, fruits, and seeds, and he uses this knowledge to accelerate crop breeding. His work, which aims to improve crop production and hardiness, helps to address the challenges of global population growth, environmental sustainability, and climate change. 

Through his focus on the tomato — one of many crop species with limited natural genetic diversity — Lippman has made key discoveries that can be applied to a wide range of plants. He discovered that genes controlling plant growth and development could be “tuned” to manipulate stem cell maturation, the number and architectures of flowering shoots (inflorescences), and ultimately yield. In recent years he has developed new applications for CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing to engineer quantitative trait variation, which is the driver of crop improvement. 

Lippman’s work puts him at the forefront of plant genetics and sets the stage for new tools and crop breeds to protect people from potential food insecurities caused by reduced farm land, climate change, water shortages and migration. 

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. For the purpose of the prize, areas of science with applications to agriculture include plant and animal sciences, microbiology, nutrition and food science, soil science, entomology, veterinary medicine, and agricultural economics. The recipient will be awarded a medal and a $100,000 prize. The prize is endowed through generous gifts from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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