Sir Ralph Riley
Wolf Prize Laureate in Agriculture 1986
The Agriculture Prize Committee for 1986 unanimously recommends that the Wolf Prize in Agriculture be shared jointly by Ernest R. Sears and Sir Ralph Riley.
Sir Ralph Riley
Agricultural and Food Research Council
London, United Kingdom
“for their fundamenta1 research in cytogenetics of wheat, providing the basis for genetic improvement of cereal grains.”
The Wolf Foundation prize in agriculture this year will be awarded to two eminent plant cytogeneticists tor their basic plant breeding research which has provided the foundation for improved cereal grain varieties.
The prize is presented to both scientists to recognize their independent but related work which led-to. the finding that the 5B chromosome controls chromosome pairing in wheat. This discovery allowed insertion of genes from alien species into wheat. It permits plant breeders to take desirable characteristics from alien plants, such as wild grasses, and insert them in wheat to vastly improve wheat germ plasms and cultivars.
Sir Ralph Riley led a research group, which increased precision of plant breeding by experimentally describing the chromosomal architecture of wheat and related species, and by comparing genetic activities of corresponding chromosomes. During investigations which Dr. Riley started in 1958, he and his colleagues described the genetic systems by which pairing of wheat chromosomes at meiosis is limited to those which are fully homologous, and by which pairing between distantly related chromosomes is precluded. This basic knowledge allowed Dr. Riley to pair and recombine chromosomes in a way that is normally illegitimate.
Together, the work of these two brilliant and dedicated scientists has led to enormously improved understanding of plant cytogenetics, thus allowing plant breeders to vastly improve cereal grain varieties to feed the world’s growing and hungry population.