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Research Garners Alexander von Humboldt Award
By Marcia Wood
November 4, 2002
Researchers who gave Hawaii's
growers of exotic tropical papayas a way to keep ringspot virus from
devastating this luscious tropical fruit today received a top scientific honor,
the 2002 Alexander von Humboldt Award for Agriculture.
Agricultural Research Service plant
pathologist Dennis Gonsalves and plant physiologist Maureen M. Fitch, both with
the agency's U.S. Pacific Basin
Agricultural Research Center in Hawaii, share the honor with colleagues
Richard M. Manshardt of the University of
Hawaii, Honolulu, and Jerry L. Slightom of Pharmacia Company, Kalamazoo,
The award, which includes a cash prize, was announced earlier this year and
presented this morning at a ceremony in Geneva, N.Y. Gonsalves was a researcher
there with Cornell University's
New York State Agricultural Experiment
Station for more than two decades before joining the Agricultural Research
Service in May 2002. He is director of the Pacific Basin Agricultural Research
Center, headquartered at Hilo. ARS co-investigator Maureen Fitch is based at
Aiea, just outside of Honolulu.
Using techniques of modern biotechnology, paired with conventional plant
breeding, the scientists genetically engineered papaya to resist attack by
ringspot virus. Through a unique partnership, the researchers were able to use
proprietary, virus-resistance genes licensed to the
Papaya Administrative Committee. The
committee represents papaya growers in the Hawaiian Islands.
Seeds of the research team's ringspot-resistant UH SunUp and UH Rainbow
papayas were made available in 1998 for growers to evaluate, including those
whose orchards had been hit by the virus. Now widely planted, the new varieties
have shown excellent resistance to the virus, according to Gonsalves.
Hawaii's farmers produce nearly the entire U.S. papaya crop. Their 2001
harvest of more than 55 million pounds had a farm-gate value of more than $14
The Alexander von Humboldt Award for Agriculture is given annually to the
person or team making the most significant contribution to U.S. agriculture
during the previous five years.
Papayas have yellow to reddish-orange flesh when ripe and provide fiber,
vitamins A and C, and potassium.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.