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Biography

Oscar Vicente obtained his PhD in 1983, in Madrid. After a postdoctoral period at the Friedrich Miescher Institute in Basel, in 1988 he moved to the University of Vienna, where he established a research group working on different aspects of plant reproduction, and on the molecular characterization of pollen allergens and plant MAP kinases. Oscar Vicente returned to Spain in 1996, to join the faculty of the Polytechnic University of Valencia, where he is at present Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Department of Biotechnology. His research interest now focuses on the study of abiotic stress tolerance mechanisms in plants. He has published over 100 scientific papers, many of them in top journals in the area of Plant Science, such as Plant Cell, Plant Journal, Plant Physiology or Plant, Cell and Environment. Oscar Vicente is the coordinator for Spain of the European Biotechnology Thematic Network Association (EBTNA).

Abstract

By 2050 world population will reach more than 9 x 109 people; to feed them, crop productivity must be quickly boosted, since at the pres¬ent rates the increase in food production will not be able to cope with human population growth. The simplest way to attain this goal is to improve the abiotic stress tolerance of cultivated species. For all important crops, average yields are only a fraction – between 20% and 50% – of record yields, and these losses are mostly due to drought and high soil salinity; these adverse environmental conditions will worsen in many regions because of global climate change, increasing in addition the scarcity of new arable land and of water for irrigation. Neither traditional plant breeding nor genetic engineering has yet provided commercial stress-tolerant crops – except for a transgenic drought-tolerant maize variety – which is not surprising considering the complexity of these traits. However, based on several promising lines of research presently in progress, we should be confident that in the coming years the combination of classical breeding and transgenic approaches will allow the improvement of abiotic stress tolerance for, at least, some of our major crops. A complementary strategy will rely on the development of 'new' tolerant crops by domestication of wild plants naturally resistant to stress, halophytes and xerophytes. Highly salt-tolerant halophytes, for example, could be grown in salinised crop land already lost for agriculture, and also in naturally saline, marginal soils, using brackish or sea water for irrigation – with the added advantage that they will not compete for limited resources (good-quality water and fertile crop land) with standard cultivated species. The problem that we face is serious enough to exploit all available opportunities to increase agricultural productivity in the shortest possible time.