AGRIBUSINESS: Monsanto CTO Remembers Breakthrough
It’s difficult to understate the important of biotechnology in changing the world’s agricultural landscape in the last 30 years.
Monsanto’s Chief Technology Officer and 2013 World Food Prize Laureate Dr. Rob Fraley still remembers the day in 1983 when the world was first introduced to biotech crops.
“I remember Rob Horsch running down the hallways saying, ”it worked! It worked! It worked!’” Fraley recalls. “It was just night and day, one plate was green, and full of plant cells. The other was brown and didn’t work. And that was it, and once that happened, we knew we had a system that would work and we started applying it to cotton and corn and soybeans.”
That moment marked the first time in history that researchers were able to use soil bacteria, in this case, agrobacterium, to transfer genes to a plant cell and make a new, living plant.
Agrobacterium transfer DNA into plant cells to produce amino acids that can be metabolized as a kind of food source. However that DNA transfer also causes tumors in plants. Earlier in the 1970s, Belgian scientist Mark Van Montagu discovered the process by which agrobacterium transfers genes to plant cells, and In the early 1980s, Syngenta researcher Mary-Dell Chilton found a way to suppress the tumor-inducing genes, paving the way for Fraley’s team to make the first biotech crops.
All three scientists were honored for their work during the World Food Prize the week of October 14.