University of Zurich Receives Grand Challenges Explorations Grant for Groundbreaking Research in Global Health and Development

6-11-2012 — / — The University of Zurich announced today that it is a Grand Challenges Explorations winner, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Plant biologist Simon Krattinger will pursue an innovative global health and development research project, titled “Improvement of durable disease resistance in rice and sorghum: Can our knowledge of natural evolutionary events in ancient wheat landraces with broad-spectrum resistance be used to help farmers in developing countries?”

“Plant diseases pose a threat to global food security. Small farmers in developing countries are particularly vulnerable to plant parasites as they often can’t afford pesticides. Plant varieties with an improved resistance to diseases present an inexpensive and environmentally friendly way of controlling pests,” explains plant biologist Simon Krattinger. “Therefore, the development of resistant crops is vital. We aim to reproduce processes discovered in resistant wheat in rice and sorghum to enable rice and sorghum varieties to develop that are as resistant as wheat,” says Krattinger, summing up his project, with which he intends to make a contribution towards global food security.

Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) funds individuals worldwide who are taking innovative approaches to some of the world’s toughest and persistent global health and development challenges.  GCE invests in the early stages of bold ideas that have real potential to solve the problems people in the developing world face every day. Simon Krattinger’s project is one of over 80 Grand Challenges Explorations Round 9 grants announced today by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Investments in innovative global health research are already paying off,” said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery and Translational Sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We continue to be impressed by the novelty and innovative spirit of Grand Challenges Explorations projects and are enthusiastic about this exciting research. These investments hold real potential to yield new solutions to improve the health of millions of people in the developing world, and ensure that everyone has the chance to live a healthy, productive life.”

To receive funding, Simon Krattinger and other Grand Challenges Explorations Round 9 winners demonstrated in a two-page online application a creative idea in one of five critical global heath and development topic areas that included agriculture development, immunization and communications. Applications for the current open round, Grand Challenges Explorations Round 10, will be accepted through November 7, 2012.

Wheat is resistant, rice and sorghum isn’t – yet, anyway

Simon Krattinger’s idea is as unconventional as it is brilliant: The Lr34 gene is found in wheat and rice and sorghum. In the course of evolution, two sequence changes in this gene in wheat made it permanently resistant to several fatal fungal diseases. As neither of these sequence changes took place in rice or sorghum, the researchers now want to simulate them in these two crops to produce rice and sorghum with durable disease resistance. If the project is successful, the goal of the second phase will be to develop permanently resistant rice and sorghum varieties and supply farmers with them. The contribution the project can make towards global food security can be measured by the importance of the two crops: Rice is one of the world’s most important crops and feeds over half the world’s population. Sorghum is relatively tolerant of aridity and therefore plays a key role in the diet of people who live in dry regions of Africa.

About Grand Challenges Explorations

Grand Challenges Explorations is a US$100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, over 700 people in 45 countries have received Grand Challenges Explorations grants. The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization. The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with short, two-page online applications and no preliminary data required. Initial grants of US$100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to US$1 million.


Simon Krattinger is hoping to mimic wheat's evolutionary changes in rice and sorghum to improve disease resistance. Credit: Carl Davies, CSIRO

Simon Krattinger is hoping to mimic wheat’s evolutionary changes in rice and sorghum to improve disease resistance. Credit: Carl Davies, CSIRO

Project: Overview

Illustration (PDF, 707 KB)


Grand Challenges Explorations

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Grand Challenges Explorations Round 10


Dr. Simon Krattinger

Institute of Plant Biology

University of Zurich


Prof. Beat Keller

Institute of Plant Biology

University of Zurich

Phone: +41 44 634 82 11

or +41 44 634 82 06



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