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Dr. Mary-Dell Chilton Named a 2013 World Food Prize Laureate

Dr. Mary-Dell ChiltonDuring the late 1970s and early 1980s, Dr. Mary-Dell Chilton, distinguished science fellow and founder of Syngenta Biotechnology, 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 crop varieties with new innovative traits.   

In 1982, Chilton and her team harnessed the gene-transfer mechanism of the bacterium, Agrobacterium, to produce a transgenic plant. Her work provided new tools to protect plants from the environment and enhance yield that complement traditional plant breeding in a very precise way.

That work has led to the development of a number 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. It is that work that has earned her the title 2013 World Food Prize Laureate, an award she calls the most significant of her career.

“What began as curiosity-driven fundamental research has now found worldwide application in agriculture with the promise of benefitting all mankind,” said Dr. Chilton. “The committee’s decision to award the World Food Prize to biotechnology researchers will help to convey to consumers the value, utility and safety of genetically engineered crops. I am both humbled and extremely grateful for this honor.”

The $250,000 World Food Prize is known as the “Nobel Prize for food and agriculture,” and is the leading international award recognizing an individual who has enhanced human development by improving quality, quantity or availability of food in the world. During the announcement ceremony today at the U.S. State Department, Secretary of State John Kerry provided the keynote address. 

Michiel van Lookeren Campagne, president of Syngenta Biotechnology, Inc., said, “At Syngenta, our purpose is ‘bringing plant potential to life’ and no one better exemplifies this than Mary-Dell Chilton. Her trailblazing work in biotechnology has provided an important element of our integrated, solutions-based offer of seeds, crop protection and seed care that is helping farmers grow more from less to meet the needs of a growing world population.”

The honor will formally be bestowed upon Dr. Chilton and the other 2013 laureates on Oct. 17, 2013 at the Laureate Award Ceremony at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines.

For more information about Dr. Chilton, her work and the World Food Prize visit http://www.syngentacropprotection.com/News_releases/news.aspx?id=175107.

  1. Press release
  2. Fact sheet
  3. Agrobacterium, A Memoir
  4. Video/audio files: 
    1. 2013 World Food Prize Laureate Mary-Dell Chilton, Ph.D.
    2. 2013 World Food Prize Audio
    3. NCSU Symposium
    4. B-Roll
  5. Photos:
    1. Cover of Cell Magazine where Dr Chiltons findings were published April 1983
    2. Dr. Chilton with the T-DNA patent on the wall behind her
    3. Dr. Mary-Dell Chilton at Syngenta Biotechnology
    4. Dr. Mary-Dell Chilton inspecting a corn plant
    5. Dr. Mary-Dell Chilton, Ph.D.
    6. Dr. Mary-Dell Chilton, Ph.D. in her Research Triangle Park, NC laboratory
    7. Dr. Mary-Dell Chilton, Ph.D.
    8. Dr. Mary-Dell Chlton in her office at Syngenta Biotechnology
    9. Mary-Dell Chilton working in her lab at Syngenta Biotechnology
    10. Mary-Dell Chilton, Ph.D. examining tobacco plants
    11. T-DNA Patent
  6. ISAAA data
  7. ISAAA cover map