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Professor Jill Farrant: The resurrection scientist

Updated: Apr 23, 2019



Professor Jill Farrant @jill_farrant, a professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of Cape Town @uct.ac.za, researches resurrection plants - plants which can lose 95% of their water, lie in a dead-like state for months and even years but once given water, they green up and grow again within 12-48 hours. She has spent the last 21 years trying to determine how exactly they do this with the aim of transferring this characteristic into other crops in order to make them drought tolerant. She and her team of researchers aim to do this in two ways:

(i) by putting resurrection genes into crops (this has already been achieved successfully in some test cases) (ii) turn on whole suites of genes already present in crops (many crops have the same genes as resurrection plants but these don’t “switch on” during periods of drought.

We are inspired by Jill’s story because her commitment to and perseverance in her research is extremely relevant in an increasingly water-stressed and climatically challenged planet where food security is increasingly an issue. The world’s population currently stands at 7bn and is expected to grow to 9-10bn, requiring a 70% increase in current agricultural practice to meet this. Much of Africa and the world will be in trouble by 2050, especially given that 95% of our plant-based foods come from wheat, maize and rice, none of which is drought tolerant. So, the need for new technology and research is imperative to ensure some form of long-term food security.

Jill tells us that she is a recovering alcoholic and has separately, suffered a near-fatal head injury which caused her to lose her sense of taste and smell but that much like the plants she researches, she has resurrected herself successfully!

Featured artist: Caroline du Toit @runitscaro

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