Mobile version
spiked plus
About spiked
What is spiked?
Support spiked
spiked shop
Contact us
Summer school
Top issues
Arab uprisings
British politics
Child abuse panic
For Europe, Against the EU
Free speech
Jimmy Savile scandal
Parents and kids
View all issues...
special feature
The Counter-Leveson Inquiry
other sections
 Review of Books
 Monthly archive
selected authors
Duleep Allirajah
Daniel Ben-Ami
Tim Black
Jennie Bristow
Sean Collins
Dr Michael Fitzpatrick
Frank Furedi
Helene Guldberg
Patrick Hayes
Mick Hume
Rob Lyons
Brendan O’Neill
Nathalie Rothschild
James Woudhuysen
more authors...
RSS feed

abc def ghi jkl mno pqrs tuv wxyz index
Survey home
First thoughts
Final thoughts
Survey responses
RSS feed
Michael Baum
Gustav Born
K Eric Drexler
Marcus du Sautoy
Harold Kroto
Paul Lauterbur
Leon Lederman
Bernard Lovell
Sophie Petit-Zeman
Ingo Potrykus
Jack Pridham
Simon Singh
Jack Steinberger
Ingo Potrykus
chair of the Humanitarian Golden Rice Board and Network, emeritus professor of plant sciences at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and creator of Golden Rice

My interest in biology was, from early youth, that of an outdoor biologist with heavy focus on birds. This is still my major hobby, after 60 years.

How did a lifelong ornithologist get sidetracked in such a way that he is now known for his work as ‘plant genetic engineer’ – everybody ‘knows’ that these people have no respect for nature – and his Golden Rice? I studied biology, majoring in zoology, but was converted to botany by the personality of Josef Straub, a professor of botany and director of the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research.

My inspiration to take up science was the phenomenon of totipotency of plant cells, and I spent a considerable part of my career trying to learn more about it. We still have very little idea why and how a leaf cell specialised for photosynthesis manages to develop into a fully functional embryo, if freed from the context of the leaf tissue and provided with a simple mineral culture solution.

But then I was sidetracked again. I was fascinated by the engineering potential provided to us by the totipotency of plant cells. And that’s why, circa 1972, I developed into a genetic engineer interested in practical solutions, motivated by the problem of food insecurity of so many millions in developing countries. From then on, until my retirement and beyond, I invested of all my capacity and that of my research team into the development of genetic engineering technology for food security crops such as rice, wheat, sorghum, cassava, and into trying to rescue harvests and improve the nutritional quality of staple crops.