IRRI scientists awarded by Queen Elizabeth II


Posted at Jan 04 2012 04:27 PM | Updated as of Jan 05 2012 05:27 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Two British scientists, who worked on developing climate-resilient crops at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños, Laguna, received awards from Queen Elizabeth II.

Dr. Michael T. Jackson and Dr. John Sheehy were included in the Queen's 2012 New Year Honours list and awarded an OBE, which makes them Officers of the Order of the British Empire.  They were cited for their contribution to "international food science and agricultural research and development."

The Order of the British Empire recognises distinguished service to the arts and sciences, public services outside the civil service and work with charitable and welfare organizations of all kinds.

"I am delighted that this year’s Honours List includes these Britons who have made an exceptional contribution here in the Philippines. The honours conferred by The Queen recognise their tremendous work in the areas of science and agriculture. Their research work in climate-resilient crops is hugely important in terms of addressing the impacts of climate change. I offer my personal congratulations," British Ambassador to the Philippines Stephen Lillie said, in a statement.

Jackson worked for nearly 40 years on the conservation and use of plant genetic resources for vital food crops.  He worked at IRRI for nearly 20 years from 1991 to 2010, conducting research on rice genetic diversity. He also sought to uncover new genes and traits in rice, which may potentially help farmers face challenges brought by climate change, pests and diseases.

During Jackson's 10 years at IRRI, he was responsible for a genebank containing varieties of rice collected over the last 50 years – a total of 112,000 different varieties from all over the world. This genebank is considered one of the pillars of Asian and global food security and the biggest single rice collection in the world.

On the other hand, Sheehy worked at IRRI for 15 years. He was the lead scientist in a team that was the first to confirm the impact of higher temperatures on rice. They discovered that average rice yield could fall by 10% for every one degree increase in temperature, considered the first real evidence of the serious impact of global warming on the world’s food supply. 

Sheehy led the C4 Rice Project, which applied cutting-edge science to discover the genes that will supercharge photosynthesis and boost food production. His vision is to "use the genetic components already present in rice to develop strains that follow the more efficient ‘C4’ form of photosynthesis and so increase their yield."

The UK Government, through the Department for International Development (DfID) and the British Embassy in Manila, has been supporting IRRI projects in the past. IRRI, with funding from the DfID, developed a flood-resistant rice variety known as Scuba rice, which can survive underwater for up to 2 weeks and recover after waters subside.

Aide from the 2 IRRI scientists, the 2012 New Year Honours list also includes journalist Alex Crawford, actress Helena Bonham-Carter, writer Penelope Lively, writer/broadcaster/poet Clive James and Formula One racing driver Nigel Mansell.

The Honours lists are published twice a year at New Year and on the Queen's official birthday in mid-June.