Three biotechnology scientists awarded 2013 World Food Prize

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June 19, 2013 - Three distinguished scientists - Marc Van Montagu of Belgium, and Mary-Dell Chilton and Robert T. Fraley of the United States - were today named the winners of the 2013 World Food Prize during a ceremony at the U.S. State Department, where Secretary of State John Kerry delivered the keynote address.

Lets Talk Food

“Hunger is a trap that prevents people from realizing their God-given potential,” Secretary Kerry said. “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.”

In announcing the names of the 2013 Laureates, Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, President of the World Food Prize, emphasized the impact and potential of their work.

“These three scientists are being recognized for their independent, individual breakthrough achievements in founding, developing, and applying modern agricultural biotechnology,” Quinn said. “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.”

Building upon the scientific discovery of the Double Helix structure of DNA in the 1950s, Van Montagu, Chilton, and Fraley each conducted groundbreaking 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.  

The revolutionary biotechnology discoveries of these three individuals - each working in separate facilities on two continents - unlocked the key to plant cell transformation using recombinant DNA. Their 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 percent of whom were small resource-poor farmers in developing countries.

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.

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.

Marc Van Montagu, who is Founder and Chairman of the Institute of Plant Biotechnology Outreach at Ghent University in Belgium; Mary-Dell Chilton, who is Founder and Distinguished Fellow of Syngenta Biotechnology; and Robert T. Fraley, the Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Monsanto, will be formally awarded the World Food Prize at the 27th Annual Laureate Award Ceremony at the Iowa State Capitol on October 17, in conjunction with the Borlaug Dialogue international symposium in Des Moines, Iowa, focused this year on “The Next Borlaug Century: Biotechnology, Sustainability and Climate Volatility.” Also in October, the World Food Prize Foundation will begin the yearlong Borlaug Centennial Observance, honoring the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dr. Norman Borlaug, founder of the World Food Prize and known as the “Father of the Green Revolution.”

Jim Greenwood, President and CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) applauded the selection of Chilton, Fraley and Montagu, and congratulated the recipients on this well-deserved honor. 

“These individuals have dedicated their lives to scientific discovery and feeding the world,” said Greenwood.  “Their contributions have helped improve the lives of farming families around the globe, while increasingly the availability of safe, healthy and affordable food.”

“Their achievements are not just scientific, but - more importantly - humanitarian.”

This story was updated at 2:19pm.  

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