Elizabeth Ainsworth, USDA Agricultural Research Service, also an adjunct professor at Illinois and a member of the IGB Genomic Ecology of Global Change research theme, will receive the 2019 NAS Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences.
How will the world eat in the face of climate change and other threats? That question dominates Ainsworth’s pioneering research, which has helped to reveal how man-made atmospheric changes will affect the physiology and growth of crops around the world.
Ainsworth led the evolution of the SoyFACE Global Change Research Facility, where she serves as lead investigator. There, she has conducted groundbreaking research to show how crops such as maize and soybeans will be affected by increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide and ozone in combination with drought and other environmental stresses, as well as possible solutions. The work recently revealed that a large portion of the United States harvest of corn and soybean was lost due to ozone pollution over the past 20 years.
Ainsworth was among the first to use functional genomic and metabolomics approaches to understanding mechanisms of response to global change, and has recently used quantitative genetic approaches to dissect plant responses to these changes.
In addition to her research itself, Ainsworth is also recognized for her tireless advocacy for science, both as a science ambassador and as a role model for the next generation of scientists. She frequently speaks to the media about climate change, and she started the Pollen Power Camp to encourage junior high-school girls to consider science careers. As an adjunct professor, Ainsworth has also mentored countless university students and postdoctoral researchers, helping to ensure that a new wave of professional biologists will follow her lead for many years to come.
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. The prize is endowed through generous gifts from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The NAS Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences is presented with a medal and a $100,000 prize.