Syngenta celebrated the remarkable career of Mary-Dell Chilton on September 7, during a recognition event at the Syngenta Innovation Center in Research Triangle Park, NC. At age 79, Chilton is retiring from the company, but her contributions to agriculture and humanity will endure for generations to come.
Chilton is widely recognized as a founder of modern plant biotechnology, after she and her research teams demonstrated that Agrobacterium is an effective vehicle for DNA transfer and produced the first transgenic plant. Her ground-breaking work in academia and the private sector ultimately led to the development and commercialization of biotech crops, which help farmers effectively manage damaging insects, disease complexes, weed pressure and abiotic stress — resulting in greater yields, profitability and efficiency.
“Few have made as indelible a mark on our industry and society as Mary-Dell Chilton,” said Michiel van Lookeren Campagne, head of global seeds research, Syngenta. “Her curiosity, innovation and hard work helped usher in a new era in agriculture. During her 35 years with Syngenta and a legacy company, she shaped our biotech seeds research program into the robust R&D engine it is today, and she will forever be part of the Syngenta family.”
While it is difficult to quantify the extent of Chilton’s contributions, the productivity and economic success of biotech crops are staggering. On average, biotech crop adoption has increased crop yields by 22%, reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, and increased farmer profits by 68%. A recent economic impact study reports that the financial benefit of biotech crops at the farm level globally was $18.2 billion in 2016 alone — and as much as $186.1 billion for the period between 1996 and 2016.
Chilton’s significant contributions to agriculture have resulted in numerous accolades, including the prestigious World Food Prize in 2013 — the definitive international award recognizing individuals who have “increased the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.”
Beyond her professional and scientific achievements, Chilton mentored and supported countless students and colleagues throughout her tenure, nurturing talent and encouraging further contributions to agriculture and life sciences.