Abdelbagi Ismail

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Abdelbagi Ismail

Abdel is IRRI Representative for Eastern and Southern Africa

His work is currently focused on the tolerance of rice for abiotic stresses, including salinity and other soil problems (alkalinity, nutrient deficiencies, and toxicities), complete (submergence) and partial (stagnant) floods, and flooding tolerance during germination and early crop establishment. His work is focused on refining screening methods, identifying tolerant donors following large-scale screening, establishing genetic and physiological bases of tolerance, and assisting in developing tolerant breeding lines and their evaluation in the field. He has developed and validated sets of best management practices for different abiotic stress conditions to maximize expression of genetic tolerance and mitigate stress effects in farmers’ fields.

Some of his ongoing work also centers on the advanced understanding of the physiological bases of tolerance of different abiotic stresses, and developing markers for breeding. He has assessed the role of tolerant varieties, such as those carrying the SUB1 gene, in the field at IRRI and in many locations in South and Southeast Asia and Africa, in collaboration with national research partners. He has also developed and validated management packages to further enhance the survival and recovery of submergence-tolerant genotypes currently being outscaled in farmers’ fields.

Among his recent works are the following:

  • Assisted in highlighting the importance of submergence-tolerant varieties at the policy level in several Asian countries, which helped to amend policies and guidelines to speed the release of these varieties and stimulated internal and additional international support, resulting in large-scale seed production and distribution, reaching over 5 million farmers in 5 years.
  • Refined the screening system for tolerance of stagnant flooding (partial floods of 30 to 50 cm through most of the season) and identified tolerant donors following large-scale screening over several years; advanced the knowledge on mechanisms of tolerance of stagnant flooding and helped develop tolerant breeding lines now being evaluated by several national research partners; helped raise awareness of this important crop stress at national programs in Asia and Africa and develop local breeding programs to tackle this problem and networks to exchange suitable germplasm.
  • Fine-mapped Saltol, a major quantitative trait locus (QTL) associated with salinity tolerance on chromosome 1, and developed a marker-assisted backcrossing system for its incorporation into several popular varieties, including a set of Vietnamese varieties now being field evaluated.
  • Identified several additional QTLs from various salt-tolerant donors now being targeted for marker-assisted backcrossing and pyramiding, and made good progress toward cloning some of these QTLs through whole-genome sequencing, with candidate genes shortlisted and currently being validated. This will help design suitable markers for combining several tolerance genes for higher tolerance in farmers’ fields.
  • Contributed significantly to understanding the physiology and genetics of tolerance of various soil problems such as high salt, iron, and aluminum toxicities, and zinc and phosphorus deficiency, including identifying and fine-mapping QTLs associated with tolerance; assisted in refining high-throughput screening protocols for tolerance of aluminum and iron toxicity using hydroponics, and continuously provided support to groups currently handling these problems at IRRI and AfricaRice.


  • Specialty. Stress physiology, molecular physiology, molecular breeding 
  • Project development and leadership. Developed and led various projects at IRRI and Africa: currently, Leader, STRASA (Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia), IRRI, covering 21 countries, and a USAID-funded project in Nepal and Cambodia; leading the development and dissemination of abiotic stress-tolerant rice varieties; strengthening of seed and seed systems and delivery.
  • Degree and non-degree training. Supervised about 35 PhD and MSc students; developed a training course on phenotyping being offered by the IRRI Training Center; participated in other IRRI training activities. Editor of Annals of Botany-PLANTS, Plant Production Science, and Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Journal. Guest editor of special issues in Gene, Genomes and Genetics, Field Crops Research, and Rice. 


  • PhD in Botany, University of California, Riverside (1992)
  • MSc in Agronomy and Water Relations, University of Khartoum (1987)
  • BSc in Crop Production and General Agriculture, University of Khartoum (1983)


  • Head, Genetics and Biotechnology Division (2017-present)
  • Deputy Director General for Research (interim, December 2015-March 2016)
  • Principal Scientist, Plant Physiologist, and STRASA Coordinator, IRRI (January 2012–present)
  • Senior Scientist II, Plant Physiologist, and STRASA Coordinator, IRRI (January 2010–December 2011)
  • Senior Scientist, Plant Physiologist, IRRI (January 2004–December 2010)
  • Scientist (Plant Physiology), IRRI (January 2000–December 2003)
  • Postgraduate plant physiologist, University of California, Riverside (June 1992–October 2000)


  • Recipient, Merit Medal “For the cause of Science and Technology development of Vietnam,“ 1 Nov. 2010, Government of Vietnam
  • Recipient, Gold medal for “Contribution to Agriculture Development,” Government of Vietnam, 2007
  • Co-author, CGIAR Best Paper Award, 2007
  • Co-author, Crop Science Society of the Philippines Best Paper Award, 2008
  • Co-author, Crop Science Society of the Philippines Best Paper Award, 2009
  • Featured in numerous media, including Science, Wall Street Journal, and numerous Asian media programs


  • Member, American Society of Plant Biologists 
  • Member, Crop Science Society of America 
  • Member, American Society of Agronomy
  • Member, International Society for Plant Anaerobiosis (ISPA), and Executive Committee member 2004-present
  • International Conferences Director of ISPA (2010-present) 
  • Organizer of the 11th International Conference of ISPA held at IRRI in October 2013 and sessions in several other international conferences and symposia.


(Co-authored more than 140 papers in peer-reviewed journals, over 60 book chapters, and 3 books/proceedings)

  1. Rahman MA, Thomson MJ, Shah-E-Alam M, de Ocampo M, Egdane J, Ismail AM. 2016. Exploring novel genetic sources of salinity tolerance in rice through molecular and physiological characterization. Ann. Bot. (In press.)
  2. Crowell S, Korniliev P, Falcao A, Ismail AM, Gregorio G, Mezey J, McCouch S. 2016. Genome-wide association and high-resolution phenotyping link Oryza sativa panicle traits to numerous trait-specific QTL clusters. Nat. Commun. 7:10527, DOI: 10.1038/ncomms10527
  3. Han Y-L, Song H-X, Liao Q, Yu Y, Jian S-F, Lepo JE, Liu Q, Rong Z-M, Tian C, Zeng J, Guan C-Y, Ismail AM, Zhang Z-H. 2016. Nitrogen use efficiency is mediated by vascular nitrate sequestration capacity in roots of Brassica Napus. Plant Physiol. DOI:10.1104/pp.15.01377 
  4. Kretzschmar T, Pelayo MA, Trijatmiko KR, Gabunada LF, Alam R, Jimenez R, Mendioro MS, Slamet-Loedin NH, Sreenivasulu N, Bailey-Serres J, Ismail AM, Mackill DJ, Septiningsih EM. 2015. A trehalose-6-phosphate phosphatase enhances tolerance of anaerobic germination in rice. Nat. Plants | DOI: 10.1038/NPLANTS.2015.124.
  5. Singh S, Mackill DJ, Ismail AM. 2014. Physiological bases of tolerance to complete submergence in rice involves other genetic factors in addition to SUB1. AoB PLANTS 6: plu060; doi:10.1093/aobpla/plu060
  6. Platten JD, Egdane JA, Ismail AM. 2013. Salinity tolerance, Na+ exclusion and allele mining of HKT1;5 in Oryza sativa and O. glaberrima: many sources, many genes, one mechanism? BMC Plant Biol. 13:32.
  7. Colmer TD, Armstrong W, Greenway H, Ismail AM, Kirk GJD, Atwell BJ. 2014. Physiological mechanisms in flooding tolerance of rice: transient complete submergence and prolonged standing water. Prog. Bot. 75:255-307. DOI 10.1007/978-3-642-38797-5_9
  8. Miro B, Ismail AM. 2013. Tolerance of anaerobic conditions caused by flooding during germination and early growth in rice (Oryza sativa L.). Front. Plant Physiol. 4:269. doi:10.3389/fpls.2013.00269
  9. Winkel A, Colmer TD, Ismail AM, Pedersen O. 2013. Internal aeration of paddy field rice (Oryza sativa) during complete submergence - importance of light and floodwater O2. New Phytol. 197: 1193-1203
  10. Ismail AM, Singh US, Singh S, Dar M, Mackill DJ. 2013. The contribution of submergence-tolerant (Sub1) rice varieties to food security in flood-prone areas. Field Crops Res. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.fcr.2013.01.007

Abdelbagi IsmailAbdelbagi Ismail
IRRI Representative for Eastern and Southern Africa
Principal Scientist - Plant Physiology
Overall Coordinator, STRASA
Overall Project Leader, USAID-ASTV

International Rice Research Institute
Los Baños, Laguna

+63 2 580 5600
ext 2843; 2773