A scientific solution to feeding a hungry world

In the US, the average person eats 27 pounds of rice every year. In the Philippines, where Santiago Bataller grew up, it’s 258 pounds. In Burma 460.

“You realize that the poorer the country, the greater the demand for rice as the main source of calories,” Bataller said at a recent presentation. “I hope to have a rice crop that is more nutritious and accessible.”

The international student and Ph.D. The contestant spoke about being part of a team making more nutritious and climate-resilient rice at the ninth annual Rebel Grad Slam 3-Minute Thesis Competition. Hosted by the UNLV Graduate College, this event challenges graduates and professionals to present their research in three minutes or less using just one presentation slide. A total of 80 students took part in the week-long competition, which culminated in the finals on November 4th. In the end, Bataller took home the first place trophy and a $1,500 graduate college scholarship.

As the world population grows and climate change negatively affects crop production, Bataller, who works with Jeffery Shen, has found that by genetically manipulating a single gene called WRKY, he is able to produce a rice plant with faster germination rates and more resilience to stressful conditions produce , like a cold and salty environment.

“Amazingly, this rice plant produced grains with an improved nutrient composition, such as B. an increased level of vitamin B5,” Bataller told the audience during his presentation. “As a plant molecular biologist, my goal is to find solutions to the challenges of food insecurity.”

Bataller’s passion for his research began long before he joined UNLV.

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“During my studies in the Philippines, I enjoyed working with plants. I was very interested in plants and my mentor suggested that I should continue my research at Masters level. I studied mushrooms and coconuts, then I wanted to study a crop that has a strong economic impact and that was rice,” he said.

Bataller, who has been following the Rebel Grad Slam competition since he started graduate school at UNLV in 2016, said he was encouraged by friends who signed up earlier this year and drew on his teaching experience to help complex ones Presenting research findings in an easy-to-digest elevator pitch.

“As a biology teacher, I present ideas to my students in a way that makes it easy for them to understand the concepts,” he said.

Despite his teaching experience and preparation for the competition – including more than a hundred practice exercises for his presentation – Bataller was surprised by the result.

“I did not expect [to win]. It was my first time in a competition and I won,” he said. “I felt relieved, happy and emotional.”

For future Rebel Grad Slammers, Bataller suggests looking at previous competitions, watching workshops hosted by the Graduate College, and practicing many times in front of peers and peers. He also shares this advice: “GO FOR IT. Try it because it will make you more confident.”

Bataller is following his own advice in his ongoing fight against food insecurity.

“I understand that food insecurity is not just a scientific problem that needs to be solved, but a political one,” he said. “We have a big challenge ahead of us. With scientific innovations, we must do everything we can to alleviate human suffering.”

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