Jill M. Farrant

Jill FARRANT (South Africa): helping crops against the drought

starafrica.com - We met Jill Farrant in Paris in March of 2012. She was one of five top female scientists from all continents, chosen as laureates by the “L’Oréal-Unesco For Women in Science” programme, in recognition for the importance of their work. She is the laureate for Africa.

Jill Farrant, a professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, holds the research chair in Plant Molecular Physiology. She studies plants which enter a dormant state when deprived of water and, upon watering, become functional again.

Why did you became a researcher?
I grew up in a farm. I was a farmer’s daughter. I have a passion for nature and plants. I see the value of cultures.

What are you researching?
Dried-tolerant crop is a potential avenue for my research.
I work on resurrection plants (*) in order to create the most resistant crop I can. By 2015, many parts of Africa will not have enough water for crops. We have a climate change and it is becoming a more pressing issue.

How do you proceed?
We have been trying to find a needle in the haystack. Plants have got the gene (*) which keeps resurrection plants alive. We’ve got to selectively activate it so dried seeds can stay alive. To do that we could use the environmental signals which promote the gene. We gotta put the big picture together.

What are the obstacles?
I do the basic research. To translate that into applied science, you need funds. There is never enough funding. We need to train new people to this field. Molecular physiology, as a discipline, is dying.

Do you have a message for female scientists around the world?
Follow your heart. Don’t let anyone tell you you are too stupid to do it.

Johannie Spaan (our interview[link]) has a similar background. Does growing up in a farm make you a crack scientist ?
It makes you a tough cookiee!

Cyril Pasteau

(*) Lexicon
Resurrection plants – Species of plants which can survive without water for a long period time, until water seemingly revives them.
Genes – Elements that carry the hereditary characteristics of individuals.

You can read others interviews:

- Gladys Kahaka

- Peggoty Mutai

- Johannie Spaan




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