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Norman Borlaug

Norman BorlaugAKA Norman Ernest Borlaug

Born: 25-Mar-1914
Birthplace: Cresco, IA
Died: 12-Sep-2009
Location of death: Dallas, TX
Cause of death: Cancer - unspecified

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Scientist

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Engineered disease-resistant wheat

From the University of Minnesota, Norman Borlaug obtained a degree in forestry, and eventually a PhD in plant pathology in 1942. Rejected from military service, he spent the next two years at a DuPont laboratory. In 1944, he headed to Mexico City to improve that nation's wheat production. Here, the Mexican Government in concert with the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations established the Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maz y Trigo (in English, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center), abbreviated CIMMYT.

Borlaug used a number of approaches to improve Mexico's wheat. Foremost among them was the development of multiline varieties, in which several strains of wheat were developed together, which shared phenotype but differed in genotype. Pureline varieties, where the wheat is of a single genetic strain, are ravaged easily by disease. Borlaug found that breeding all of the strains in a multiline with a single parent could cause them to merge into a common phenotype much more quickly. The different strains could grow to the same height, germinate at the same time, and share other desirable characteristics, yet maintain the significant genetic differences necessary for disease resistance.

Another success was the cross-breeding of selected outside wheats into Mexico's traditional wheat strains. Norin 10, a dwarf strain from Japan, grew to two feet instead of four feet, a necessity if stalks are to support more grains. An American strain, Brevor 14, showed remarkably high yields. These and others, in combination with the multiline techniques, made for a formidable high-yielding wheat resistant to disease. Within 20 years of his starting, virtually all of Mexico was planting Borlaug's varieties.

In the mid 1960s, the Indian subcontinent was facing famine. Imports of CIMMYT wheat brought relief quickly. In a half dozen years, wheat yields in those countries essentially doubled, and soon after brought self sufficiency in cereals. Latin America and Africa also benefited greatly. High yields slowed agricultural encroachment on forested land. Borlaug perhaps accomplished more to reduce world hunger than any other individual, and for this he was awarded the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize, which was followed by a Vannevar Bush Award in 2000 and a Congressional Gold Medal in 2007. He died in 2009 from cancer.

Father: Henry Oliver Borlaug (b. 1889, d. 1971)
Mother: Clara Vaala (b. 1888, d. 1972)
Sister: Palma Lillian (b. 1916, d. 2004)
Sister: Charlotte (b. 1919)
Sister: Helen (b. 1921, d. 1921)
Wife: Margaret G. Gibson (m. 1937, d. 2007, one daughter, one son)
Daughter: Norma Jean Laube
Son: William Borlaug

    University: BS Forestry, University of Minnesota (1937)
    University: MS, University of Minnesota (1940)
    University: PhD Plant Pathology, University of Minnesota (1942)
    Professor: International Agriculture, Texas A&M University (1984-2009)

    Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maz y Trigo Dir. Wheat Research and Production Program (1964-79)
    Rockefeller Foundation Assoc. Dir., Inter-American Food Crop Program (1960-63)
    Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maz y Trigo Research Scientist (1943-60)
    DuPont Microbiologist (1942-44)
    Nobel Peace Prize 1970
    Presidential Medal of Freedom 1977
    Vannevar Bush Award 2000 (with Herbert F. York)
    Congressional Gold Medal 17-Jul-2007
    American Council on Science and Health (1978-2009)
    American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering Fellow (2005)
    Federation of American Scientists Board of Sponsors
    Hague Appeal for Peace Honorary Committee
    Hungarian Academy of Sciences 1980
    Alpha Zeta Agricutural Fraternity
    Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society
    Norwegian Ancestry


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