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New UC San Diego Research Unit Focuses on Food and Fuel for the 21st Century

A new Organized Research Unit (ORU) that focuses on "Food and Fuel for the 21st Century" has been established at the University of California, San Diego.

Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Suresh Subramani and Vice Chancellor for Research Sandra Brown announced the new ORU on April 30, following consultation with the Academic Senate and campus administrators.

Stephen Mayfield and Julian Schroeder, professors of biological sciences, are the founding co-directors of the Center for Food and Fuel for the 21st Century, or FF-21.

"This ORU's mission is to support development of innovative, sustainable and commercially viable solutions for the renewable production of food, energy, green chemistry and bio-products using photosynthetic organisms," Mayfield said.  "The center will incorporate research scientists from the fields of biology, chemistry, engineering, economics and policy. The center will facilitate the training of young scientists, including undergraduates, graduate students and post-doctoral scholars, through integration into our multidisciplinary research teams. "

Mayfield also serves as director of the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology, which is currently working with a variety of industry and academic partners to develop ways to economically produce biofuels from algae. Schroeder's research involves identifying the basic molecular mechanisms by which plants respond to and mount resistance to environmental stresses, with a focus on drought, salinity, and the rising atmospheric CO2 concentration.

In addition to promoting basic research, FF-21 will facilitate the transfer of technology to the commercial sector, as well as facilitate discussions with regional, state and national policy-makers regarding the use of photosynthetic organisms for enhanced food production and energy independence.

“With the world population predicted to grow to 9 billion people by 2050, and a per-capita continuing increase in food and energy consumption globally, the challenge of the present century is to sustainably produce food and energy," said Schroeder. "Presently, the planet receives about 6,000 times more energy from the sun than all present human energy consumption. Plants are very good at turning the sun’s energy into chemical energy, meaning food and bio-energy. Plants will be part of the solution for a sustainable future, but the challenges are undoubtedly great and also pressing.”

ORUs at UC San Diego promote multidisciplinary research and provide a supportive infrastructure for interdisciplinary research that complements the academic goals of departments of instruction and research. The university currently has 35 multi-campus, general campus, School of Medicine, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography-based ORUs.

Some 300 leaders in plant and algae biology from around the country will gather on the UC San Diego campus May 11-13 for a symposium on using genetics to develop renewable ways of improving the nation’s food, fuel, pharmaceutical and other bio-based industries. The meeting, titled Food & Fuel for the 21st Century, will serve as the inaugural event for the new ORU.

"Our research units are committed to solving the most pressing problems we face as a state, a nation, and a world," said Vice Chancellor Brown, whose office oversees the campus ORUs. "We look forward to the innovative and time-critical contributions this new ORU promises to deliver."


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