Three Biotechnology Scientists Awarded 2013 World Food Prize

June 20, 2013 03:48 AM
Three Biotechnology Scientists Awarded 2013 World Food Prize

This year's recipients independently developed the science of modern plant biotechnology.

SOURCE: The World Food Prize

Three scientists — Marc Van Montagu of Belgium, and Mary-Dell Chilton and Robert T. Fraley of the United States — have been named the winners of the 2013 World Food Prize.

"Hunger is a trap that prevents people from realizing their God-given potential," Secretary of State John Kerry said during a ceremony at the U.S. State Department. "Food drives life. And the struggle for food is a struggle for life. This makes hunger an economic issue, a national security issue – and without a doubt a moral issue. Through innovation, we can help alleviate hunger and malnutrition today – but more than that, we can help fulfill our responsibility to tomorrow."

Montagu, founder and chairman of the Institute of Plant Biotechnology Outreach at Ghent University in Belgium; Chilton, founder and distinguished fellow of Syngenta Biotechnology; and Fraley, executive vice president and chief technology officer for Monsanto, were recognized for their molecular research on how a plant bacterium could be adapted as a tool to insert genes from another organism into plant cells, which could produce new genetic lines with highly favorable traits.

"As a farm boy and scientist who has spent his entire life and career working in agriculture, it is incredibly gratifying that billions of acres of crops have been planted by tens of millions of farmers around the world that have benefitted from our research in advanced molecular breeding and biotechnology methods," Fraley said. "I really believe we have just scratched the surface on what is possible in bringing innovation to farmers who deliver food security to consumers around the world."

The scientists' work led to the development of a host of genetically enhanced crops, which, by 2012, were grown on more than 170 million hectares around the globe by 17.3 million farmers, over 90% of whom were small, resource-poor farmers in developing countries.

"These three scientists are being recognized for their independent, individual breakthrough achievements in founding, developing and applying modern agricultural biotechnology," said Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, president of the World Food Prize. "Their research is making it possible for farmers to grow crops with improved yields, resistance to insects and disease, and the ability to tolerate extreme variations in climate."

From their work in the laboratory to applying biotechnology innovations in farmers’ fields, the combined achievements of the 2013 World Food Prize Laureates have contributed significantly to increasing the quantity and availability of food.

"It is gratifying that our work, which started as curiosity-driven fundamental research, has now found worldwide application in agriculture with the promise of benefitting all mankind," Chilton said.

Estimates show the global population growing to 9 billion by 2050. Currently, 870 million, or 1 in 8 people, are hungry. Scientific advancements will play a critical role as we face the global challenges of the 21st century of producing more food in a sustainable way, while confronting an increasingly volatile climate, Quinn said.

"We have a great responsibility to continue to move science forward and to utilize it in the best ways possible to nourish mankind, especially those who are suffering every day," Quinn said.

"There is still a long way to go to before this technology is fully established to produce the orphan crops and varieties essential to the food security of smallholder farmers in less developed countries," Montagu added. "I hope that this recognition will pave the way for Europe to embrace the benefits of this technology, an essential condition for global acceptance of transgenic plants."

Montagu, Chilton and Fraley will be formally awarded the World Food Prize at the 27th Annual Laureate Award Ceremony at the Iowa State Capitol on Oct. 17, in conjunction with the Borlaug Dialogue international symposium in Des Moines, Iowa. Also in October, the World Food Prize Foundation will begin the yearlong Borlaug Centennial Observance, honoring the 100th anniversary of the birth of Norman Borlaug, founder of the World Food Prize and known as the "Father of the Green Revolution."

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