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Food Security Canada Excellence Research Chair receives $1.6 million for crop research with Chinese scientists

Leon Kochian, University of Saskatchewan Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) in food security and Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS) Associate Director, has been appointed to China’s Thousands Talent program by the Fujian Agricultural and Forestry University and the Fujian Province, and awarded the title of “National Distinguished Expert in China.”

Kochian is one of the world’s most highly cited scientific researchers. His $20 million CERC, announced in 2016, is using cutting-edge plant and soil science to help feed a growing world. His research will drive change in agricultural technologies, practices and policies, while training young scientists in an innovative systems approach to global food security.

Kochian also leads the GIFS research pillar, Root-Soil-Microbial Interactions, which includes a team of researchers working to find more efficient ways to study and image roots and the soil that surrounds them, so they can contribute to improving crops and developing new crop varieties that are more resilient and adaptable to marginal soils. Roots that can respond well to drought, salinity, acidity and climate change will be more efficient at transporting nutrients to plants. Creating stronger, more resilient roots will help improve the yield of plants, and allow plants to grow in soil that is marginal, which will benefit plant breeders and global food security in general.

No stranger to China, Kochian has been collaborating for many years with plant scientists from several Chinese universities, including Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University, Zhejiang University, Chinese Agricultural University, Tsinghua University and S. China Agricultural University on research on improving crop production on marginal soils. He also has trained a large number of Chinese graduate students, postdocs, and visiting professors in his labs, many of whom now run successful research programs in Chinese universities.

As part of the Thousands Talent Program, Kochian will spend up to two months a year for three years, managing a plant mineral nutrition course for graduate students, continuing to work on collaborative research that is part of his CERC program on soybean root biology with Professor Hong Liao, Director of the Root Biology Institute at Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University, as well as mentoring graduate students at Fujian Agricultural University in Fujian Province who will also conduct part of their graduate research in his labs at GIFS and the U of S.

Kuchean’s award was granted as part the programs’ Recruitment Program for Innovative Talents. The Program targets senior western faculty who come to work on a part time visiting basis, with full professorships or the equivalent in prestigious foreign universities and R&D institutes, or with senior titles from well-known international companies or financial institutions. Awardees are conferred the title of “National Distinguished Experts” and provided with enabling working and living conditions.

The award includes $1.175 million for research startup, another $200,000 for research costs, and $200,000 for travel and living costs while at the Fujian Agricultural University.

Kochian came to GIFS in September 2016 from Cornell University, where he was the Director of the USDA Agricultural Research Services Robert W. Holley Center for Agriculture and Health, and a Professor in the Departments of Plant Biology and Soil and Crop Sciences. As Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) in Food Systems and Security at the U of S, Kochian is bringing together biologists, computer scientists, bioinformaticians, engineers and social scientists to address food security challenges by focusing on the plant root system to: improve crop production, quality and safety; promote environmentally sustainable agricultural practices; and address societal and economic barriers that limit impact of new agricultural technologies.