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Mary-Dell Chilton

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Mary-Dell Chilton
Born (1939-02-02) February 2, 1939 (age 80)
Alma materUniversity of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign
Known forFirst genetically modified plants
AwardsWorld Food Prize, National Inventors Hall of Fame
Scientific career
InstitutionsSyngenta Biotechnology Inc
ThesisTransforming Activity in Single-Stranded DNA from Bacillus subtilis (1967)
Doctoral advisorBenjamin D. Hall
Notable studentsMichael W. Bevan

Mary-Dell Chilton (born February 2, 1939, in Indianapolis, Indiana) is one of the founders of modern plant biotechnology.

Early life and education

Chilton attended private school for her early education.[1] She earned both a B.S. and Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Illinois.[2] She later completed postdoctoral work at the University of Washington at Seattle.[1]

Research career

Chilton taught and performed research at Washington University in St. Louis.[1] While on faculty there in the late 1970s and early 1980s, she led a collaborative research study that produced the first transgenic plants.

Chilton was the first (1977) to demonstrate the presence of a fragment of Agrobacterium Ti plasmid DNA in the nuclear DNA of crown gall tissue. Her research on Agrobacterium also showed that the genes responsible for causing disease could be removed from the bacterium without adversely affecting its ability to insert its own DNA into plant cells and modify the plant's genome.[3] Chilton described what she had done as disarming the bacterial plasmid responsible for the DNA transfer. She and her collaborators produced the first genetically modified plants using Agrobacterium carrying the disarmed Ti plasmid (1983). She has been called the "queen of Agrobacterium."[4]

Chilton is author of more than 100 scientific publications. She is a Distinguished Science Fellow at Syngenta Biotechnology, Inc. She began her corporate career in 1983 with CIBA-Geigy Corporation (a legacy company of Syngenta).

Awards and honors

For her work with Agrobacterium tumefaciens, she has been recognized with an honorary doctorate from the University of Louvaine, the John Scott Medal from the City of Philadelphia, membership in the United States National Academy of Sciences, and the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Sciences from the Franklin Institute.

She was honored by the Crop Science Society of America in 2011 with the organization's Presidential Award.[5]

In honor of her many achievements, in 2002 Syngenta announced creation of the Mary-Dell Chilton Center – a new administrative and conference center which was added to the company's facility in Research Triangle Park, in North Carolina.[6]

In June 2013, she was named a laureate of the prestigious 2013 World Food Prize.[7][8][9]

In 2015, Chilton was elected to the National Inventors Hall of Fame.[10]


  1. ^ a b c Stanley, Autumn (1993). Mothers and daughters of invention : notes for a revised history of technology. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press. p. 83. ISBN 978-0813521978.
  2. ^ Locke, Mandy (28 December 2013). "2013 Tar Heel of the Year: Mary-Dell Chilton is changing the way the world eats". The News & Observer. Archived from the original on February 18, 2014. Retrieved 27 June 2014.
  3. ^ Chilton, M. D.; Tepfer, D. A.; Petit, A.; David, C.; Casse-Delbart, F.; Tempé, J. (1982). "Agrobacterium rhizogenes inserts T-DNA into the genomes of the host plant root cells". Nature. 295 (5848): 432. Bibcode:1982Natur.295..432C. doi:10.1038/295432a0.
  4. ^ Charles, Daniel (2001). Lords of the harvest : Biotech, big money, and the future of food. Reading, MA: The Perseus Books Group. ISBN 9780738202914.
  5. ^ "Crop Science Society of America Announces 2011 Award Recipients". Crop Science Society of America (CSSA). Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  6. ^ "SBI Founder and Distinguished Scientist: Mary-Dell Chilton PhD". Sygenta US: Biotechnology. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  7. ^ (in French) Catherine Morand, "Le prix mondial de l'alimentation à Monsanto et Syngenta ? Une farce",, 16 October 2013 (page visited on 16 October 2013).
  8. ^ Syngenta's Mary-Dell Chilton named 2013 World Food Prize laureate
  9. ^ Pollack, Andrew (19 June 2013). "Executive at Monsanto Wins Global Food Honor". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 June 2014.
  10. ^ "Mary-Dell Chilton". National Inventors Hall of Fame. Retrieved 7 February 2015.

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Mary-Dell Chilton
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