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Unlocking the 21st-Century Agricultural Revolution

  • August 31, 2007
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Unlocking the 21st-Century Agricultural Revolution
-Professor Yong-Hwan Lee's Research Team

The College of Agriculture may sound like a less than glamorous academic base for Professor Yong-Hwan Lee, but he shrugs off any jokes about just sitting around watching the grass grow.

"Half of the world's population relies on rice as their staple food. If we exterminate rice blast [a pervasive fungus that infects rice, depriving 60 million people a year of food], we can stabilize crop production." Agricultural pathogens have literally moved nations; the potato blight precipitated the Irish diaspora, 2 million people died in South Asia because of a leaf blight that afflicted rice crops.

Professor Lee's recent groundbreaking research on fungi, published in the prestigious journal Nature Genetics, is aimed at furthering the green biotech revolution, saving countless human lives while simultaneously protecting the threatened environment.

While Korean scientists often pursue joint research with other international science teams, who frankly have often been further along in their endeavors, Professor Lee's research was formulated and conducted entirely in Korea. Asserts Professor Lee,"I think our research fully represents our potential, and it ensures that we're at top of the field when it comes to fungal functional genomics." With the genome of rice completed in 2002 and that of the rice blast fungus in 2005, scientists are racing to analyze their functions at the genomic level.

For the team's research, Professor Lee discovered that they required a 'high-throughput screening system,' a new research tool that the scientists ended up memorably ransacking their laboratory in the course of finding materials to develop. This creativity and flexibility extended to the bioinformatics system database, which they custom-developed with the input of Seoul National University undergraduates.

Professor Lee stresses,"I try make our students both feel free and feel responsible for their work." As he anticipates interdisciplinary research will be increasingly important, he believes that cultivating a strong cooperative work ethic is key to unlocking the potential of the biotech revolution.

August 31, 2007
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