Three distinguished scientists — Marc Van Montagu of Belgium, and Mary-Dell Chilton and Robert T. Fraley of the United States — were named June 19 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. Mr. John Ruan III, Chairman of the World Food Prize, also participated in the ceremony.
“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.”
In a written statement, Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, the renowned Indian scientist and Chairman of the World Food Prize Laureate Selection Committee, said the award is especially fitting this year.
“2013 marks the 60th anniversary of the discovery of the double helix structure of the DNA Molecule by James Watson, Francis Crick and Morris Wilkins,” Swaminathan said. “During the last 60 years, the science of molecular genetics, also referred to as New Genetics, has opened up uncommon opportunities for shaping the future of agriculture, industry, medicine and environment protection. It is therefore appropriate that the World Food Prize is being awarded this year to some of the pioneers of the New Genetics who have opened up opportunities for achieving a balance between human numbers and the human capacity to produce adequate food.”
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.
“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. “As our founder, the scientist Norman Borlaug, said, we are going ‘from the Green Revolution to the Gene Revolution.’ Our international symposium this October will focus on three intertwined issues: biotechnology, sustainability, and climate volatility. I invite people across the globe to engage together in rational debates and solution-based dialogues to identify ways we can harness technology for the greatest benefit to mankind and our environment.”
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.”