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Phillips completed his B.S. and M.S. degrees from Purdue University. After completing his master's degree, he completed his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. After completing his PhD, he completed his postdoctoral training at Cornell University. Since 1967, he has been a professor at the University of Minnesota. Officially retiring in 2010, he is now Regents Professor Emeritus at the University of Minnesota.
Ronald L. Phillips was the first to generate whole corn plants from cells grown in culture, which laid the foundation for, and sparked, a new industry, using cell-culture methods to genetically modify corn plants and other cereals. The corn cell line which is most widely used for genetic modification of corn has greatly accelerated the improvement of corn, as food, feed and fuel.
His research program at the University of Minnesota was one of the early programs in modern plant biotechnology related to agriculture. Research in the Phillips laboratory have further led to the identification of cells and plants with increased levels of essential amino acids and the development of an efficient DNA sequence mapping system used by plant scientists in genomics research.
In 2006/7, he was awarded the Wolf Prize in Agriculture along with Michel A. J. Georges of the University of Liège "for groundbreaking discoveries in genetics and genomics, laying the foundations for improvements in crop and livestock breeding, and sparking important advances in plant and animal sciences".
- Phillips, R. L. (2013). "Norman Ernest Borlaug. 25 March 1914 -- 12 September 2009". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2013.0012.
- "Ronald L. Phillips". University of Minnesota. Retrieved October 7, 2019.
- "Wolf Prize Recipients in Agriculture". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved October 7, 2019.
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