Wolf Prize Laureate in Agriculture 1978
George F. Sprague
Affiliation at the time of the award:
University of Illinois, USA
“for his outstanding research on the genetic amelioration of maize for human welfare”.
Professor Sprague (a geneticist – plant breeder) and Professor Walker (a plant pathologist -plant breeder) have achieved world eminence in the development of improved crop plants to the extent of greatly stabilizing the culture, increasing yields, and improving the quality of a number of major vegetable crops, and of maize – one of the world´s dominant grain crops. Each has developed novel and efficient methodology of breeding techniques and procedures. Both have been towering figures in contributing to both applied and basic research. Both have most enviable records of having trained scientific manpower for agriculture´s needs. Students of each are to be found throughout the world, many of them having established themselves as distinguished researchers, educators and/or administrators. Each awardee has served well the organizations of his respective science and agricultural industry, as well as the governments of the world.
In the annals of world agriculture, hybrid maize is the most spectacular example of the exploitation of a genetic phenomenon heterosis for increasing food production. Unquestionably Professor Sprague´s name ranks foremost in the 40-year-long history of this great achievement of agricultural science. Moreover, many of the concepts, much of the theory and, any of the breeding models, which he developed for maize, have influenced the improvement of other crop plants.
Throughout his long and distinguished scientific career, Professor Sprague has worked untiringly to link theoretical quantitative genetic theory to practical plant breeding. Among his most fruitful basic studies was the development of a mathematical genetic model for selection that led to the development of an improved gene pool of maize germ plasm. Professor Sprague´s genetic research laid the ground work, for improvement in nutritional quality in maize. A fact, which holds great promise to maize-eating nations. He conducted investigations, which demonstrated that protein quality of maize was genetically modifiable.
In summary, few people in the history of agriculture have had such a profound impact on the improvement of a major crop as has Professor Sprague.