ARIT 2017 Poster Session Feature: Patricia Bubner
Going beyond pure text, bridges will feature Austrian scientists from a new perspective in 2018, taking creative cues to communicate their science in a different light, tone, and color.
Discover the work of Patricia Bubner, our second scientist featured in the ARIT 2017 Poster Session Showcase.
What do I want to achieve with my research?
Rather than with text, our scientists, answer this essential question using an image, emoji, cartoon or limerick.
Cartoon credit: Monika Lafer
"How does my research make others feel?"
Our scientists mimics speak stronger than words!
Photo credit: Sabrina Sehr
Your science in action: A nutritious, drought-tolerant, and gluten-free grain!
When Patricia Bubner undertook her postdoctoral research in biotechnology at the University of California, Berkeley, her program at the Energy Biosciences Institute investigated different ways to replace climate-damaging fossil fuels by biofuels. Studying the biofuel potential of agricultural by-products such as straw or wood (cellulosic fuels), among others, the institute had minimal interest in food plants. However, Bubner’s fortuitous friendship with an Indian postdoc, Amrita Hazra, moved the two women to pursue a side research project on millet – a family of grains that they both found sadly missing from American groceries, diets, and menus.
Although wheat, corn, and rice make up 89% of the grains produced around the world, millets are widely grown in India, Nepal, and Japan, and there is evidence of their cultivation in Asia 10,000 years ago. Currently, more than 50 million people in the African Sahel eat pearl millet every day, Bubner had grown up in Austria in a family that prized a healthy diet, and both Hazra and Bubner wanted to remedy their low-millet situation: “We both enjoyed eating millet and wondered why we could not get it here in the US,” said Bubner. “We were passionate to change that.” Thus, in their free time, they started The Millet Project.
Bubner’s 2017 poster paper described the research of the now-14-member multicultural group – members have been from India, the US, Mexico, Portugal, China, Indonesia, and Austria – focusing on a project that studied which types of millet are best suited to certain climates, such as the dry California soil. Millets have the advantage of a short growing season; they are low in carbohydrates, but rich in protein, certain vitamins, calcium, and iron; and are also gluten free. For example, finger millet (ragi) has three times the calcium (mg/100 g) that milk has!
Not only is millet relatively drought tolerant, but one of The Millet Project’s collaborators, ICRISAT (Indian Institute of Millets Research), is working to develop strains with even greater drought tolerance. In California and Washington State, individual farmers, projects, and university-affiliated facilities have also become collaborators, with “test plots” for several varieties of millet – including proso, foxtail, pearl millet, Japanese millet, teff, and finger millet. Even under conditions so dry that corn (maize) produces no seed, all the millet varieties produced seed. And under various levels of drought, pearl millet was the least impaired by water shortage, showing only modest changes in weight and length of the inflorescenses.
Increased cultivation of millet is important not only to homesick postdocs, but as a way to improve nutrition around the world, particularly in a time of climate change. Amrita Hazra, now an assistant professor in India, foresees millet being used as a healthy snack for school children. Much as in China, Africa, and even Europe, millet in India “is considered food for poor people, even though it is much more nutritious than rice,” explains Bubner.
The goal of The Millet Project (https://themilletproject.org/) is to increase diversity in agriculture as well as in our diet, with grains whose tolerance of drought and skeletal soils can alleviate the effects of climate change. By carrying out growing trials with different millets in California to connect farmers with producers and customers, and through public outreach events that acquaint people with the benefits of millets and how to cook them, The Millet Project is pushing for this grain to become a regular dietary staple – not only in US kitchens, but all over the world.
My favorite scientist is:
If you read one science website/ blog/ book, it should be:
'The Immortal Life' of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Without science, I would be a:
…post-apocalyptic survival specialist.
My eureka moment was when:
One of the many eureka moments over the years was when I realized the global importance of food security, and how important it is for people to reconnect with the food they eat, the people that grow this food, and the soil that nurtures it.
ABOUT THE SERIES
The ARIT 2017 Poster Session Showcase will highlight select Austrian scientists of the Research and Innovation Network Austria. These scientists all participated in the coveted ARIT 2017 Poster Session, after having been selected by an expert jury from the ASCINA network and the Austrian Marshall Plan Foundation.