Patient Plant Breeders Harvest Food Prize

Two Mexico City researchers who worked for 30 years to perfect a high-protein corn will receive the $250,000 World Food Prize next month in New York. The new variety of corn, or maize as it is known outside North America, produces up to twice as much lysine and tryptophan--two essential amino acids for building proteins--as most modern varieties of tropical maize.

> and Surinder Vassal show off their handiwork.

Evangeline Villegas and Surinder Vasal of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico City used traditional trial-and-error breeding techniques to incorporate a newly discovered gene into plants that had the same yield and pest resistance as traditional strains. Getting a combination of traits acceptable to both farmers and consumers proved a tough row to hoe, says Kendall Lamkey, an agronomist at Iowa State University in Ames. But perseverance produced a "quality protein maize" that looks like traditional varieties. "The only difference is the superior [nutritional] quality," says Villegas.

Farmers have planted at least 1 million hectares of the maize--which can boost harvests by 10%--in 10 countries in Asia, South America, and Africa.

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The World Food Prize