Plant Science Post

Nothing Will Compare to Next 30 Years, Says Biotechnology Pioneer

July 6, 2016
Investment & Innovation

In 2013 Dr. Marc Van Montagu won the World Food Prize for his breakthrough achievements in founding, developing, and applying modern agricultural biotechnology.

During the 1960s, along with his fellow researcher Jeff Schell, Dr. Van Montagu showed how a plant bacterium could be used as a tool to insert genes from another organism into plant cells. That made it possible to develop crops with favorable traits, such as those resistant to disease and insects.

Here Dr. Van Montagu explains the story of plant biotechnology, and how it is good for humankind.

Today, modern biotechnology brings efficiency and precision to alter crops in a variety of useful ways, but according to Dr. Van Montagu, we’ve only scratched the surface with its potential.

“Nothing in the past compares with what it will be like in 30 years,” says Dr. Van Montagu, who is now emeritus professor of molecular genetics at Ghent University and chair of the Institute of Plant Biotechnology Outreach in Belgium.

“We need to help plants adapt to climate change by combatting diseases and allowing for better nutrient and fertilizer uptake. Traits of interest are drought tolerance, flood tolerance, better root development, delayed ripening and water storage.”

Dr. Van Montagu adds that a new generation of plant breeders must be inspired into the industry to realize the potential of science.

“Norman Borlaug’s example of plant breeding with semi-dwarf wheat was spectacular in its success, but one person cannot do it all. We must bring all specialties together and use knowledge wisely. Plant breeding is crucial for food production but we need to inspire young people to go into this field. They must learn how to make products for problems people have.”