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BNI-enhanced wheat research wins 2021 Cozzarelli Prize

Study describing development of wheat with biological nitrogen inhibition ability from wild relative receives award for outstanding papers published in PNAS.

The paper “Enlisting wild grass genes to combat nitrification in wheat farming: A nature-based solution” received the 2021 Cozzarelli Prize, which recognizes outstanding articles published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). The paper was published as a joint research collaboration of Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences (JIRCAS), the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) and Nihon University.

The study identifies of a chromosomal region that regulates the biological nitrification inhibition (BNI) ability of wheat grass (Leymus racemosus), a wild relative of wheat. It also outlines the development of the world’s first BNI-enhanced wheat, through intergeneric crossing with a high-yielding wheat cultivar.

This research result is expected to contribute to the prevention of nitrogen pollution that leads to water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, reducing the use of nitrogen fertilizer while maintaining productivity.

Best of the year

PNAS is one of the most cited scientific journals in the world, publishing more than 3,000 papers per year on all aspects of science. A total of 3,476 papers were published in 2021, covering six fields: Physical and Mathematical Sciences, Biological Sciences, Engineering and Applied Sciences, Biomedical Sciences, Behavioral and Social Sciences, and Applied Biological, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

The Cozzarelli Prize was established in 2005 as the PNAS Paper of the Year Prize and renamed in 2007 to honor late editor-in-chief Nicholas R. Cozzarelli. It is awarded yearly by the journal’s Editorial Board to one paper from each field reflecting scientific excellence and originality. The BNI research paper received the award in the category of Applied Biological, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

The awards ceremony will be held online on May 1, 2022, and a video introducing the results of this research will be available.

Recently, lead researcher Guntur V. Subbarao presented this research on a talk at Princeton University’s Center for Policy Research on Energy and the Environment: “Low-nitrifying agricultural systems are critical for the next Green Revolution.”

Fruitful collaboration

CIMMYT has collaborated with JIRCAS on BNI-enhanced wheat research since 2009, with funding from Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. CIMMYT is one of the founding members of the BNI Consortium, established in 2015.

The CGIAR Research Programs on Wheat (WHEAT) and Maize (MAIZE) co-funded BNI research since 2014 and 2019 respectively, until their conclusion at the end of 2021.

BNI research has been positioned in the “Measures for achievement of Decarbonization and Resilience with Innovation (MeaDRI)” strategy of Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and was also selected as one of the ministry’s “Top 10 agricultural technology news for 2021.”

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Enlisting wild grass genes to combat nitrification in wheat farming: A nature-based solution