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UCR professor wins highest USDA honor for work with cowpea


UCR professor wins highest USDA honor for work with cowpea

(May 16, 2001)

Anthony E. Hall, a professor and crop ecologist at the University of California, Riverside, has received the highest honor given by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for his work to identify desirable characteristics in a nutrient-rich food crop and breed superior varieties that enhance the crop's productivity.

USDA Secretary Ann Veneman will present the award Monday, June 4, in Washington, D.C. to recognize Dr. Hall's efforts in "promoting health by providing access to safe, affordable and nutritious food."

Dr. Hall's research to identify traits conferring heat tolerance and adaptation to drought in blackeye pea, also known as cowpea, has benefited both the U.S. agricultural community and West Africa's Sahelian zone, which regularly experiences severe droughts. Improved varieties of cowpea have been introduced in both regions and have helped alleviate hunger and poverty for millions of people in the Sahel. In September, 2000, Dr. Hall also received a major award for scientific excellence from the U.S. Agency for International Development for his contributions to agricultural development in Africa.

"He, possibly more than anyone, embodies the ability to bring excellence in research to address pressing problems that confront sustainable agricultural systems domestically and internationally," said Philip Roberts, associate dean of the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at UCR. "Tony Hall really deserves these awards."

Dr. Hall's research and breeding efforts on cowpea began in 1974. He recognized that the hardy native African and Californian crop, which can be used as a grain or eaten as a fresh cooked pea, could provide a reliable and nutrient-rich food for West Africa if it could be adapted to escape drought

conditions during its flowering and pod-filling stages. Over the next decades, Dr. Hall and his colleagues identified lines of cowpea that matured earlier, thereby avoiding drought, determined the mechanisms whereby heat damages cowpea and bred heat-tolerant lines, and selected lines with superior resistance to pests and plant diseases. He and his African collaborators bred several improved cowpea varieties, including "Mouride," Melakh," and "Ein El Gazal" that were introduced in Senegal, Sudan, and several other African countries during the 1990s.

The U.S. cowpea industry also has benefited. In 1999 Dr. Hall and several UCR collaborators released "California Blackeye 27," a new semi-dwarf variety developed by transferring the heat tolerance traits found in African lines into blackeye bean lines adapted to California. This variety produces greater dry bean yields when it is hot during flowering and has resistance to several pests and plant diseases.

Most recently Dr. Hall collaborated with UCR colleagues on isolating and identifying a dehydrin gene that gives cowpea lines partial resistance to chilling temperatures during emergence. Dr. Hall and his colleagues now have bred cowpea lines that have both chilling tolerance during emergence and heat tolerance at flowering for potential release as varieties in California. By combining crop physiology and plant breeding studies, Dr. Hall has obtained unique information on crop adaptation to stresses that can be used to improve many crop species.

The University of California, Riverside (www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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