Founder in modern plant biotech retires

Mary-Dell Chilton, widely recognized as a founder of modern plant biotechnology, has retired.

Chilton was recognized during an event at Syngenta Innovation Center in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. Her work in academia and the private sector ultimately led to the development and commercialization of biotech crops, which help farmers manage damaging insects, disease complexes, weed pressure and abiotic stress—resulting in greater yields, profitability and efficiency.

“Few have made as indelible a mark on our industry and society as Mary-Dell Chilton,” said Michiel van Lookeren Campagne, head of global seeds research, Syngenta. “Her curiosity, innovation and hard work helped usher in a new era in agriculture. During her 35 years with Syngenta and a legacy company, she shaped our biotech seeds research program into the robust R&D engine it is today, and she will forever be part of the Syngenta family.”

While it is difficult to quantify the extent of Chilton’s contributions, the productivity and economic success of biotech crops are staggering. On average, biotech crop adoption has increased crop yields by 22 percent, reduced chemical pesticide use by 37 percent and increased farmer profits by 68 percent. A recent economic impact study reports that the financial benefit of biotech crops at the farm level globally was $18.2 billion in 2016 alone—and as much as $186.1 billion for the period between 1996 and 2016.

Chilton’s significant contributions to agriculture have resulted in numerous accolades, including the prestigious World Food Prize in 2013—the definitive international award recognizing individuals who have “increased the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.”

Beyond her professional and scientific achievements, Chilton mentored and supported countless students and colleagues throughout her tenure, nurturing talent and encouraging further contributions to agriculture and life sciences.