Engineering resilient food crops

The Whitehead Institute announced today that it has received an anonymous $3 million grant supporting the Dr. Vincent J. Ryan Orphan Plant Project — research intended to bioengineer a series of under-studied food crops that will be both more nutritious and more resilient to climate change than many current crops. Ultimately, the Project aims to enhance global food security and help protect millions of people from hunger and malnutrition. The Project is jointly led by Institute Members Mary Gehring, Jonathan Weissman, and Jing-Ke Weng; and it combines their expertise in plant metabolism, genetics, and genome-editing technologies to establish a new integrated approach for precision crop engineering.

Photo collage of Mary Gehring, Jonathan Weissman and Jing-Ke Weng

Using Fundamental Biology to Counter Climate Change

The challenges presented by climate change are wide-ranging — and so must be science’s response. In this Director’s Dialogue, which took place on May 4, 2021, three Whitehead Institute scientists, Jing-Ke Weng, Mary Gehring and Jonathan Weissman, speak with Institute Director Ruth Lehmann about exciting opportunities for leveraging fundamental biological research to create biotechnologies that address some of climate change’s vexing effects.

They discuss plant biology research aiming to combat food insecurity by creating heartier and more diverse feed crops, new research approaches that enable scientists to sustainably synthesize therapeutic compounds from plants, and to pinpoint (and replicate) the genetic drivers of certain plants’ ability to thrive in difficult climates, and an exciting new strategy for carbon-sequestration.

AUDIOHELICASE: How to build a sustainable future?

Making our world more sustainable to preserve it for future generations will take not just one but many solutions. Researchers at Whitehead Institute are exploring how the natural world could teach us how to improve the sustainability of how we produce food, how we make medicines, how we make products more durable, and potentially how we remove carbon from the atmosphere.  In this special episode of AudioHelicase, we’ll hear from researchers at the Institute that are pursuing creative solutions to sustainability that combine a passion for making a difference with boundless curiosity for the living world.

Congrats to the newly defended Dr. Jacobowitz!

Joe Jacobowitz successfully defended his PhD thesis today through Zoom (the first time ever in the Weng lab history). Many congrats to achieving this remarkable milestone in your career at this challenging time! We will make up for the in-person celebrations at an appropriate time, hopefully in the near future.

Celebration poster by Sophia Xu

Treatments for COVID-19 taking root in plant science

Plants have been used as medicine for thousands of years; could they contribute to a solution to the COVID-19 pandemic? This is what Whitehead Institute Member Jing-Ke-Weng set out to address in a new paper, published May 20 in the journal Molecular Plant. In the recent episode of AudioHelicase, he spoke about an herbal treatment being used to treat COVID-19 in China derived from Traditional Chinese Medicine, the work necessary for such a treatment to be translated to an FDA-approved drug, and why the COVID-19 pandemic underscores the need for basic, fundamental research in plant science and beyond.