This month in IRRI history: May

Author // Gene Hettel Categories // IRRI History

After a busy April each year at IRRI, one would think that activities would wind down a bit in May. Well, maybe somewhat, but not much. Over the last 55 years, this month at IRRI has marked many research achievements, firsts, and new endeavors—and the awards and recognition, both for individual staff members and the Institution as a whole, kept rolling in. Be sure to click the links for additional background and watch some of the videos—I spent a lot of time collecting them all! Enjoy.


Unique photo exhibit on the birds of IRRI

20150501 exhibit birds

On 3 May 2013, as part of the Ambassadors’ Day, a 5-month-long photo exhibit, Feathers in the Fields: The Birds of IRRI opened at the Riceword Museum, which showcased the many bird species that frequent IRRI’s experimental rice fields through images captured primarily by two of the country’s most passionate bird photographers, Tirso Paris and Fred Serrano. The exhibit also featured videos and recorded bird sounds. This was undoubtedly one of the most popular exhibits in the museum’s history—after 5 months, it was extended until the end of the year.

Over 55 years, more than 100 species of birds that enjoy IRRI’s environment have always been there, but it is only recently that we have taken notice with the realization of how important they are to our overall ecosystem. We did a special cover story on the birds in the April-June 2013 issue of Rice Today—which involved two firsts—we actually did four covers for the same issue (because we had so many great photos) and we included an extended 3-fold centerfold that featured many of our feathered friends. We also produced some special videos that reside on YouTube. A spin-off of this was our 2015 Wall Calendar, which featured large photos of 12 key species and became one of our all-time popular publications. On deck is a 93-species Guide to the birds of Philippine rice fields, due out in a couple of months.


3,000 rice genome sequences made publicly available on World Hunger Day

20150501 3000 genomes
The photo shows most of the core 3K RGP team at IRRI: (left vertical row from top) Nickolai N. AlexandrovMa. Elizabeth B. NaredoMaria Socorro R. AlmazanFlora C. de Guzman, and Ruaraidh Sackville Hamilton; (right vertical row from top) Renato A. ReañoHei LeungGrace Lee S. CapilitRamil P. MauleonKenneth McNally, and Sheila Mae Q. Mercado.

On 28 May 2014 (World Hunger Day), the open-access, open-data journal GigaScience (published by BGI and Biomed Central), announced the publication of an article on the genome sequencing of 3,000 rice strains along with the release of this entire dataset in a citable format in journal’s affiliated open-access database, GigaDB. The publication and release of this enormous data set (which quadruples the current amount of publicly available rice sequence data) coincided with World Hunger Day to highlight one of the primary goals of this project—to develop resources that will aid in improving global food security, especially in the poorest areas of the world.

This work is the completion of stage one of the 3,000 Rice Genomes Project (3K RGP), a collaborative effort of IRRI, the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), and BGI. It is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology.

We gave a lot of coverage to this remarkable scientific feat with both a cover story in the July-September 2014 issue of Rice Today and the lead research achievement in IRRI’s 2014 annual report, which went online in mid-April.


Chandler Hall is dedicated

20150501 bob sunnyOn 31 May 1972, this was the last day of Robert Chandler's 12-year tenure as IRRI’s founding director general. At the time, the Board of Trustees saw it fitting to dedicate one of IRRI’s main buildings in his name—the current Chandler Hall (at that time it housed the Administrative offices, the Library, and Communication). Appropriately, this was the first time that this was done, starting a tradition of naming IRRI HQ buildings after persons who had contributed substantial parts of their careers to the Institute or giving in other ways to rice and agricultural research. In previous blogs, I have already mentioned the later dedications of the other two buildings that surround the circular pond of Higamot Hill—Harrar Hall and Hill Laboratory.

The building plaque, flanked in the photo by Sunny and Bob Chandler on dedication day, reads: "The Trustees of the International Rice Research Institute have named this building in honor of Robert Flint Chandler, Jr., first director of the Institute, 1960-1972, in recognition of his creative and vigorous leadership in organizing IRRI and directing its research, training, international cooperative programs during its first twelve years—a period in which science revolutionized the rice paddies of tropical Asia and in which the Institute won high honor among the world’s humanitarian and scientific organizations." Note to management: I think it is time to restore many of the outside building plaques—starting with this one!


See other notable activities and events in May on This week in IRRI history.



About the Author

Gene Hettel

Gene Hettel

Gene Hettel is an IRRI historian and editor-in-chief of Rice Today.

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