“Being able to maximize crop yield will be very important in the future.” Dr. Rachel Green.
As the world warms up and food insecurity predictions become real, the research of Dr. Rachel Green from The Hebrew University will likely grow in prominence.
Green, 47, is studying plants and the mechanisms that control some of their most important biological processes. Like in animals and humans, plants have a biological clock that times when to flower, when to go dormant for the winter and when a plant should protect itself during cold nights.
It is this timer, known as the circadian clock, that Green has made the focus of her research. The mother of seven, who works at the Plant and Environmental Sciences Department of the Jerusalem university, is focusing on the genes that regulate this circadian clock and its rhythms.
Insight into the way the biological clock in plants work, can give information to plant breeders about how to select plants for growing in certain geographical areas, or how to breed a plant to be more tolerant to certain stressors, explains Green.
Take for example rice, a staple food source now in short supply worldwide which only flowers when the days are short. This process is controlled by the circadian clock, Green tells ISRAEL21c: “We know this because they have pigments in the cells – light receptors that see whether it is light or dark.”
Incorporating knowledge about the plant’s internal clock into breeding methods may be able to help increase crop yield, she says, noting that 16 percent of a plant’s genes are working to control circadian rhythms.
“Everyone’s predicting very big food shortages,” says the London native, “Being able to maximize crop yield will be very important in the future.”
Her research may not only be applied to make plants more productive, it may have applications in human medicine as well. Plants and animals do have different components regulating their clocks, but the mechanism works the same way, she says.
A gene that produces a certain protein (protein kinase CK2) in plants, is a protein that may be important in humans for regulating sleep processes, she says.
Supported by the US-Israel Binational Science Foundation, Green also works in partnership with Dartmouth College’s Prof. Robertson McClung in the US, and together the two have isolated a gene that regulates a plant’s circadian clock.
Having studied at Israel’s Weizmann Institute for an MSc, in England at Cambridge for her PhD, and later during post-doc work at UCLA, Green has had the opportunity to see and compare more than just plant life on different continents.
She is a rare breed – a woman that excels in science managing the “Green Lab,” while running a busy household and raising seven kids. With her children born in three different continents, she praises Israel as the country that truly that lets her enjoy both worlds of motherhood and research.