UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Christina Grozinger, Publius Vergilius Maro Professor of Entomology in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, will be honored by the National Academy of Sciences for helping the world understand how to address the crisis of global declines in pollinator populations.
Grozinger, the recipient of the academy’s 2021 Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences, will be among 20 individuals receiving awards in recognition of their extraordinary scientific achievements in a wide range of fields spanning the physical, biological, social and medical sciences. The winners will be honored in a virtual ceremony during the National Academy of Sciences’ 158th annual meeting in April.
The recipient of the Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences is awarded a medal and a $100,000 prize. The prize is endowed through gifts from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
A leading social insect biologist, Grozinger integrates research, education, outreach and service regarding the biology and health of honey bees and other pollinators. She has expanded our understanding of how stressors such as pathogens, parasites, pesticides, poor nutrition, climate change and extreme weather affect bees. The work is critical in preserving the pollination that makes possible the production of many nutritious foods — including many fruits — as well as seed production to maintain the diversity of plant species.
“Professor Grozinger is an international leader in her field and an imaginative thinker whose research and educational programs span scientific disciplines to tackle one of the most important issues we face as a society,” said Rick Roush, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences. “Her work to understand, address and raise awareness of pollinator decline is vital to sustaining our food system and protecting the health of the planet. Christina is also a wonderful educator of both our students and the public. I’m pleased that the academy has recognized her many worthy contributions.”
Grozinger, the founding director of Penn State’s Center for Pollinator Research and Insect Biodiversity Center, conducts innovative and integrative studies of the molecular, physiological and ecological determinants of the health of managed and wild bees. One focus of her research group is evaluating how nutritional deficiencies contribute to declines in pollinator populations and developing strategies to design floral planting schemes to improve pollinator nutrition in diverse landscapes. She also has developed accessible, nationwide, web-based tools to support evaluation and management of habitat for pollinators for both agriculture and conservation.
“I am so honored to be selected for this award and to have the importance of pollinators to our food and natural ecosystems recognized,” Grozinger said. “Tackling pollinator declines requires an approach that crosses academic disciplines and engages stakeholders in a shared discovery process. The dynamic, creative and collaborative environment at Penn State really has made this work possible, and I am so excited to see where we will take this research in the future.”
A scholar-in-residence in Penn State’s Sustainability Institute, Grozinger noted that she hopes to develop more integrative projects that can scale from genomes to ecosystems, with an eye toward developing more precise species- and location-specific strategies to support and expand populations of different pollinator species. “It will be important to develop approaches that can be used easily by beekeepers, growers, conservationists and gardeners in urban, agricultural and natural landscapes,” she said.
As the associate director for research at Penn State’s new Institute for Sustainable Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Science, known as SAFES, Grozinger said she also plans to develop programs to foster transdisciplinary research, spanning the use of big data and development of accessible decision-support tools across the College of Agricultural Sciences.
Paul Shrivastava, Penn State’s chief sustainability officer and director of the Sustainability Institute, said he is delighted to see the National Academy’s recognition of Grozinger’s transdisciplinary work. “If we are to mainstream public focus on protecting biodiversity, we must co-create innovative solutions developed in partnership with stakeholders beyond academia,” he said, “and Dr. Grozinger’s work models a co-creative approach to help society address the challenges of hunger and food production.”
The NAS Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences recognizes research by a mid-career scientist (defined as up to 20 years since completion of doctoral degree) at a U.S. institution who has made an extraordinary contribution to agriculture or to the understanding of the biology of a species fundamentally important to agriculture or food production. For the purpose of the prize, areas of science with applications to agriculture include plant and animal sciences, microbiology, nutrition and food science, soil science, entomology, veterinary medicine, and agricultural economics.
The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution that was established under a congressional charter signed by former President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership, and — with the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Medicine — provides science, engineering and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.