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Researchers named 2013 WFP Laureates

This year marks the 100th birthday of Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution and the man credited with saving more than 1 billion lives throughout his long career in plant genetics.

It also marks the 60th anniversary of the discovery of the DNA double-helix structure, one critical to the advancement of what would become today's study of molecular genetics and the continued development of biotechnology that raises crop yields and ultimately helps stem the tide of global malnutrition and hunger.

So, it's fitting, says U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, that the 2013 World Food Prize Laureates represent a cross-section of the kind of modern genetic research that continues toward the eradication of hunger around the world. Those Laureates were announced during a ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

This year's Laureates are: Marc Van Montagu, plant scientist and former director of the VIB Department of Plant Systems Biology at Universiteit Gent in Belgium; Mary-Dell Chilton, plant genetics researcher, Distinguished Science Fellow at Syngenta Biotechnology, Inc., and former Syngenta vice president for Agricultural Biotechnology; and Robert Fraley, executive vice president and chief technology officer for Monsanto Corporation, who oversees that company's integrated crop and seed agribusiness technology and research, who (most notably to U.S. farmers) led efforts to develop and take to market crops with the Roundup Ready trait.

"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," says Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, chairman of the World Food Prize Laureate selection committee. "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."

Montagu, Chilton, and Fraley will be honored as this year's World Food Prize Laureates during a ceremony in Des Moines, Iowa, on October 17. The theme of this year's event, says World Food Prize Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, shifts the focus to the next 100 years of food scientists and researchers but sticks to the original outcomes of Borlaug, adding in key variables that will likely have major implications for the world's ability to feed itself in the coming century.

"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 says. "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."

Both that development and subsequent dialog will become increasingly important moving into the future, especially as the population's expected to top 9 billion by 2050, Kerry says. And though it may be unpopular in some circles, Fraley says genetics and biotechnology research must continue in order for one-eighth of the world population to climb its way out of hunger.

"I really believe we have just scratched the surface on what is possible in bringing innovation to farmers who deliver food security to consumers around the world. My friend and mentor, Norm Borlaug, said, 'The world has the technology -- either available or well-advanced in the research pipeline to feed on a sustainable basis a population of 10 billion people. The more pertinent question today is whether farmers or ranchers will be permitted to use this new technology,'" Fraley says. "While there are those who may not support our advanced research in biotechnology, the need for food security and the opportunity for farmers around the world to meet the growing demand is much more important than any differences of opinion that exist."

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