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TITLE:  2003 Marks the 20th Anniversary of Modern Plant Biotechnology
SOURCE: Council for Biotechnology Information
DATE:   Apr 2003

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   "As we look at the next 20 years of plant biotechnology, we expect to
    see considerable advances, which will improve quality of life, from
    foods to pharmaceuticals to new industrial materials, bringing the
    benefits of biotechnology to the people of the world who need them

2003 Marks the 20th Anniversary of Modern Plant Biotechnology

Learn about the pioneers and visionaries behind the progress and promise of
plant biotechnology.

Edward Cocking of Nottingham University in England vividly described a
January 1983 meeting of genetic researchers in Miami that is widely regarded as
the dawn of the modern biotechnology era. "Everybody could see that the gates
were opening," said Cocking, referring to presentations by three separate
teams of researchers who had successfully inserted the genes from one organism
into another. "It was almost self-evident at that point that it was only a
matter of time until other genes were inserted."1

Twenty years later, plant biotechnology has grown to become the most rapidly
adopted technology in the history of agriculture, and is now used by between
5.5 million and 6 million farmers in 16 countries around the globe,
according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech
Applications.2 Biotechnology is so pervasive that in 2003 in the United States, it's
predicted that 80 percent of soybean acres will be planted with biotech

In 1983, the work of the three research teams all focused on a type of
bacteria called Agrobacterium tumefaciens, which has been described as a "natural
genetic engineer"4 for its ability to splice its own genes into plant cells.5

"They (researchers) hoped to convert Agrobacterium from a disease-causing
germ into a pack mule, ready to carry new, foreign genes into plant cells,"
wrote Dan Charles in "Lords of the Harvest."6 They succeeded, and there are now
more than 70 biotech agricultural crops that have been approved for use in
North America, including varieties of soybeans, cotton, canola, corn, potatoes,
squash, tomatoes and papaya. "The first biotech plants offered insights on
ways we could improve food and crops selectively giving plants beneficial, new
qualities with greater precision than traditional plant-breeding methods,"
explained Mary-Dell Chilton, a renowned biotech pioneer who led one of those
first research teams that announced their findings 20 years ago. "The
discovery set the stage for a new era of discovery to improve food, feed and fiber
crop production." 

To date, these approved crops have been enhanced in one of the following

 Herbicide tolerant crops are immune to broad-spectrum herbicides
that are effective against harmful weeds but have no effect on the crop. That
lets farmers spray less often with just one herbicide and often reduces the
need for plowing, which reduces soil runoff. 

 Pest resistant crops have been enhanced with naturally occurring
pesticides - like the protein from Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt - that ward
off crop-eating insects like rootworm, bollworm and the European corn borer. 

 Virus resistant crops are shielded from plant viruses in the same
way humans are protected from disease - by being "immunized" and thus building
a natural defense. 

 Stacked trait crops combine these and other traits. 

These advancements mark just the beginning for how biotechnology can be used
to produce more and better food while helping to preserve the environment.
"As we look at the next 20 years of plant biotechnology, we expect to see
considerable advances, which will improve quality of life, from foods to
pharmaceuticals to new industrial materials, bringing the benefits of biotechnology
to the people of the world who need them most," said Chilton. 

Read on to learn more about Chilton and other biotech pioneers, visionaries,
and innovators:

Erreur! Signet non défini.
Charles J. Arntzen
President Emeritus
The Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research
Founding Director
Arizona State University's Arizona Biomedical Institute
(Tucson, Ariz.)

Charles Arntzen is the president emeritus of the nation's largest
not-for-profit research institute, the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research,
located on the campus of Cornell University and devoted to the study of plants
and associated organisms. He also is the founding director of the Arizona
Biomedical Institute (AzBio) at Arizona State University (ASU) and was appointed
to the Florence Ely Nelson Presidential Endowed Chair at ASU in 2000. His
primary research interests are in plant molecular biology and protein
engineering, and he has pioneered new strategies in the medical use of plants,
particularly in the genetic enhancement of plants to produce oral vaccines. He is a
member of President George W. Bush's Council of Advisors on Science and
Technology and is on the Advisory Board of the Burrill and Company's Agbio Capital
Fund and the Nutraceuticals Fund, as well as the Scientific Advisory Boards
of Epicyte Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Valigen Inc. 

Roger N. Beachy
Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
(St. Louis, Mo.)

Roger N. Beachy is internationally known for his work on virus resistant
plants. He was appointed president of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
in St. Louis, Mo., Jan. 1, 1999. Beachy pioneered the development of virus
resistance in plants through the use of biotechnology and, with his co-workers,
discovered that insertion of a specific gene resulted in a plant that is
resistant to attack by the virus. Using this technology, Beachy developed the
world's first transgenic food crop, a tomato resistant to infection by tomato
wilt virus and related viruses. Beachy received the 2001 Wolf Prize in
Agriculture for his use of recombinant DNA technology to advance plant sciences.

Norman Borlaug
Sasakawa-Global 2000
Nobel Peace Prize Recipient
Distinguished Professor of International Agriculture Texas A&M University
(College Station, Texas)

Norman Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for launching the
Green Revolution in Asia and for his lifetime of work to help feed the hungry.
At 87 years old, Borlaug leads the Sasakawa-Global 2000 (SG 2000)
agriculture program, a joint venture between the Sasakawa Africa Association and the
Carter Center's Global 2000 program, which works with more than 4 million
small-scale farmers in 11 sub-Saharan African countries. Borlaug's early plant
pathology research and a Ph.D. in wheat genetics from the University of
Minnesota in 1942 led him to the Rockefeller Foundation, where he served as the
scientist in charge of wheat improvement under the Cooperative Mexican
Agricultural Program. With the establishment of the International Maize and Wheat
Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico in 1964, he assumed leadership of the Wheat
Program, a position he held until his official retirement in 1979. Since 1984,
Borlaug has served at Texas A&M University as distinguished professor of
international agriculture.

Mary-Dell Chilton
Distinguished Science Fellow and Principal Scientist II
Syngenta Seeds
(Research Triangle Park, N.C.)

Mary-Dell Chilton, one of the key founders of modern biotechnology, is a
distinguished science fellow and principal scientist at Syngenta Biotechnology,
Inc. (SBI), Research Triangle Park, N.C. While on faculty at Washington
University in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Chilton led a collaborative research
study that produced the first plants containing new traits introduced by
gene-splicing technology. Chilton's research team first demonstrated that the
genes responsible for causing disease could be removed from the bacterium
without adversely affecting its ability to insert its own DNA into a plant cell.
This groundbreaking research, which paved the way for the many contributions
plant biotechnology has made to agriculture, has earned Chilton the Benjamin
Franklin Medal in Life Sciences (often referred to as the American Nobel
Prize) for 2002. Her current research is directed to improving the technology for
introducing new genes into plants. 

Gurdev Singh Khush
International Rice Research Institute
(Manila, Philippines)

Gurdev Singh Khush, long-time devotee of rice research, has contributed
significantly to the development of the body of research fueling the
biotechnology developments in rice. In 1967, as head of the International Rice Research
Institute (IRRI), Khush developed his own new variety of “miracle
rice.” Using IR8 (IRRI's first high-yielding modern rice variety) as a
genetic base and cross breeding it with 13 parent varieties from six nations, Khush
developed IR36, a semidwarf variety that proved highly resistant to a number
of the major insect pests and diseases. The improved varieties of rice
developed under Khush and his colleague, Beachell, are now planted on
approximately 70 percent of the world's rice-growing land and have more than doubled rice
production worldwide. Khush was the recipient of the 1996 World Food Prize
for developing improved rice varieties.

Barbara McClintock (1902-1992)
Nobel Laureate

Nobel laureate Barbara McClintock is most noted for her discovery that genes
can transfer their positions on chromosomes, which is important for the
understanding of hereditary processes. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for
Physiology or Medicine in 1983 for her discovery 35 years ago  -  making her the
first American woman to win an unshared Nobel. Though it took several years for
wide acceptance of the transposable gene theory, researchers would
eventually verify her findings with molecular biology techniques. McClintock pioneered
the field of maize cytogenetics, or the cellular analysis of genetic
phenomena in corn. From 1941 until her death, she worked at the Cold Spring Harbor
Laboratory in New York. 

Martina Newell-McGloughlin
University of California's Systemwide Biotechnology Research and Education
(Davis, Calif.)

Martina Newell-McGloughlin, an internationally recognized authority on
biotechnology and its social implications, directs the University of California's
(UC) Systemwide Biotechnology Research and Education Program.
Newell-McGloughlin also serves on several committees and organizations, including the
Genomics Committee, the International Life Sciences Institute, International Food
Information Council Expert Panel, Institute of Food Technologists Advisory
Committee on Biotechnology, was a member of a World Trade Organization Panel on
Technology, and the United Nations Technology Discussion Panel on Sustainable
Agriculture. Newell-McGloughlin currently is an advisor for development of
technology organizations here and abroad. 

Per Pinstrup-Andersen
Director General
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
(Washington, D.C.)

Per Pinstrup-Andersen, a native of Denmark, joined the International Food
Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) as its director general in 1992. As perhaps
the world's foremost authority on global food policy, Pinstrup-Andersen is an
advocate for continued development of biotech foods that, together with
improved nutrition education and food distribution systems, can dramatically
improve the way of life in developing countries. He is a fellow of the American
Agricultural Economics Association and the American Association for the
Advancement of Science. He was the recipient of the 2001 World Food Prize for his
contribution to the improvement of agricultural research, food policy and the
lives of the poor.

Ingo Potrykus
Professor Emeritus
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology of Plant Sciences
(Zurich, Switzerland)

Until he retired April 1, 1999, Ingo Potrykus was a full professor of plant
sciences, specifically biotechnology of plants, at the Institute of Plant
Sciences, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH). He is the coinventor of
"golden rice", an enriched rice developed through biotechnology that would
benefit the poor and disadvantaged in developing countries who suffer from
vitamin A deficiency. Potrykus and his research team also made significant
contributions to food security in developing countries through the development and
application of genetic engineering technology to improve other crops such as
wheat, sorghum and cassava.

C.S. Prakash
Tuskegee University's Center for Plant Biotechnology Research
(Tuskegee, Ala.)

C.S. Prakash oversees the research on food crops of importance to developing
countries and the training of scientists and students in plant biotechnology
at Tuskegee University. He actively works to promote biotechnology research
in the developing countries of Asia and Africa through training of students
and scholars, research collaboration and lectures. He also is actively
involved in enhancing the societal awareness of food biotechnology issues around the
world. Prakash's Web site,, has become an important
portal disseminating information and promoting discussion on this subject among
scientists, activists and journalists. Prakash served on USDA's Agricultural
Biotechnology Advisory Committee, as well as the Advisory Committee for the
Department of Biotechnology of the government of India. 

Surinder K. Vasal
Distinguished Scientist
International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center
(Bangkok, Thailand)

Surinder K. Vasal grew up in Amritsar, Punjab, India. In 1967, Vasal took
his first assignment outside India as a research associate for the Rockefeller
Foundation Agricultural Program headquartered in Bangkok, Thailand. He
conducted research on maize in close collaboration with the National Corn and
Sorghum Research Center of the Kasetsart University, Thailand. In 1970, Vasal
moved to the position of post-doctoral fellow at the International Center for
Maize and Wheat Improvement (CIMMYT) in Mexico, supervising the high-lysine
maize project. He remained deeply involved in the program for almost two decades
and made significant contributions to the development of agronomically
acceptable quality protein maize cultivars for varied climates. Vasal has been
named a 2000 World Food Prize Laureate, in conjunction with Evanglina Villegas,
for his work in developing quality protein maize.

Evangelina Villegas
Consultant (Mexico City, Mexico)
Sasakawa-Global 2000

In 1957, Evangelina Villegas initiated the chemical analysis and industrial
quality studies of the wheat breeding program of the Oficina de Estudios
Especiales in México (Cooperative Program of the Secretaria de Agricultura y
Ganadería y Fundación Rockefeller). In 1967, she started the biochemical
screening of the maize generated by the High Lysine Maize breeding program at the
International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). At CIMMYT, Villegas
also served as a consultant for protein quality and industrial quality
laboratories in Brazil, Argentina and Guatemala. Villegas retired from CIMMYT in
1989. Since then, she has served as a consultant for Sasakawa Global 2000, an
international organization that works to spread improved farm technology in
Africa. Villegas and Dr. Surinder Vasal, also from CIMMYT, were the
co-recipients of the World Food Prize in October 2000 for their work in the development
of quality protein maize.

For more information: 

The Faces of
Innovationhttp://html/html/pdf/FacesInn_20YR.pdfhttp://html/html/pdf/FacesInn_20YR.pdf  -  Complete biographical information on the biotech
pioneers profiled above. 

Plant Biotechnology Timeline  -  Council for Biotechnology Information

Explore the Benefits of Biotechnology  -  Council for Biotechnology

Celebrating 20 Years of Plant Biotechnology  -  Council for Biotechnology
Information media kit

1 Charles, Daniel. "Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money and the Future
of Food," Perseus Publishing, Cambridge, Mass., 2001, p. 5. 

2 James, Clive. "Biotech Crops Continue Rapid Global Growth Rate,"
International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications press release,
January 15, 2003, < <>.

3 "Prospective Plantings," National Agricultural Statistics Service, U.S.
Department of Agricultural, March 31, 2003, p. 20, <

4 Charles, Daniel. "Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money and the Future
of Food," Perseus Publishing, Cambridge, Mass., 2001, p. 16.

5 Charles, Daniel. "Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money and the Future
of Food," Perseus Publishing, Cambridge, Mass., 2001, p. 3.

6 Charles, Daniel. "Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money and the Future
of Food," Perseus Publishing, Cambridge, Mass., 2001, p. 3.


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