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Roger N. Beachy was born in 1944 in the United States. He became interested in plant biology as a high school student at Bethany Christian Schools in Goshen, Indiana. He then completed his BA in biology from Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana. Then, he completed his Ph.D. in plant pathology from Michigan State University. He is a second cousin of Stanford biologist Philip A. Beachy and historian Robert M. Beachy, and is also a relative of author Stephen Beachy.
After completing his PhD, he became a member of the Biology Department at Washington University in St. Louis from 1978 to 1991, where he was Professor and Director of the Center for Plant Science and Biotechnology. From 1991 to 1998, he headed the Division of Plant Biology at The Scripps Research Institute, a leading biomedical research center in La Jolla, California. From January 1999 until October 2009, he was the president of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Missouri.
Roger N. Beachy is an expert in plant virology and biotechnology of plants. He established principles for the genetic engineering of plants, that make them resistant to viral diseases.
His research at Washington University in St. Louis, in collaboration with Monsanto Company, led to the development of the world’s first genetically modified food crop, a variety of tomato that was modified for resistance to virus disease. He demonstrated pathogen-derived resistance in plants and produced the first disease-resistant transgenic plant. He also showed that by transferring and expressing the coat protein gene of a virus in plants (coat protein-mediated resistance - CP-MR), these transgenic plants become resistant to viral infection. His discovery of the CP-MR led to the development of virus-resistant varieties of potato, tomato, pepper, cucumber, squash, sugar beets, papaya and plum.
Roger N. Beachy has received several awards and honors in his life. In 2001, he was awarded the Wolf Prize in Agriculture along with James E. Womack of Texas A&M University "for the use of recombinant DNA technology, to revolutionize plant and animal sciences, paving the way for applications to neighboring fields". He is also a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.
On September 24, 2009, Beachy was appointed by President Barack Obama to be the first Director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). He joined the agency on October 5, 2009.
The mission of the NIFA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), is to stimulate and fund the research and technological innovations that will enhance and make American agriculture more productive and environmentally sustainable while ensuring the economic viability of agriculture and production. The Institute was developed as a result of a task force chaired by William H. Danforth and appointed by then Secretary of Agriculture, Ann M. Veneman. The Danforth Task Force recommended that Congress authorize the creation of NIFA as a way to strengthen agriculture research and to attract additional highly competitive research scientists to this field of endeavor. A growing program in competitive research grants will be a hallmark of the new agency.
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