Professor Marc Van Montagu, the president of the European Federation of Biotechnology (EFB), has been awarded the World Food Prize for his great contribution to genetic modifying of plants. The award is also known as the Nobel Prize for agriculture.
Van Montagu was just attending a conference Green for Good II in Olomouc when he learned the happy news from Washington, D.C. The award has been given out for thirty years, but never once has it been awarded for genetic modification of plants. “I am very excited because being awarded this prize means that the whole scientific community agrees that it is inevitable to start using technologies of genetic engineering sooner than later,” Van Montagu declared.
The method which he invented in the 70s is being used for a wide range of plants. Van Montagu used the ability of Agrobacteria to import a piece of genetic information into the plant. “It is a bacterium that causes plants to grow kind of a small tumor which transfers a plasmid – a part of its DNA, into the plant. This plasmid is then used to import a required gene into the plant,” Prof. Ivo Frébort (the Executive director of the Centre of the Region Haná for biotechnological and agricultural research) has explained. This method is being used for genetically modified maize or soybeans all over the world, and it reduces the amount of herbicides required to protect the plants and enhances the resiliency against insect pests.
„The population growth is unstoppable. There were 2 billion of us in 1945, now there are more than 7 billion, and in 2050 there may be 10 or even 11 billion people on the planet Earth. Therefore, we need to double or triple the food production,” Van Montagu argues.
He also appreciated the role of the Centre of the Region Haná which serves as a regional office for the EFB in The Czech Republic. “I think it is fantastic. This is exactly what Europe needs. The Czech Republic has a long tradition of excellent university education and basic research, but these scientists have to communicate with people who know agriculture. And where else would this cooperation be more suitable than here in the Haná region where the soil is very fertile and the climate is favorable. You should become the leader in the agricultural production, “ Van Montagu suggested.
The 80-year-old Belgian scientist who has won many other awards for his inventions was invited to join the Belgian nobility with a title – baron. He himself has never done any farming. “I grew up in the city without a garden. I would spend all the time in the lab, “ the professor admitted. He and his wife started a garden only about 10 years ago after having retired, but he still does not have much time to work there.
The World Food Prize is being awarded by the Norman Borlaug Foundation whose founder won the Nobel Peace Prize in the 70s for the green revolution that saved many in the third world countries from famine.