Jozef S. Schell
Wolf Prize Laureate in Agriculture 1990
Jozef S. Schell
Affiliation at the time of the award:
Max-Planck-Institute for Plant Breeding, Germany
“For his pioneering work in genetic transformation of plants, thereby opening up new horizons in basic plant science and breeding”.
Professor Jozef Stefaan Schell played a key role in the development of Agrobacterium and its Ti plasmid as a vector for inserting genes into plants.
His subsequent work has moved to the use of transgenic plants to bring a new dimension into the study of classical problems in plant physiology, particularly in relation to hormone receptors and the mechanisms of hormone action.
Another particularly notable feature of Professor Schell’s work has been his orchestration of collaborative efforts to spread the knowledge and use of these techniques around the world.
The impact of his pioneering contribution and leadership is now beginning to appear as companies are developing transgenic plants for pest and disease resistance and for effecting a range of compositional changes of potential industrial importance.
Ti-plasmid-derived genetic constructions are the only proven vehicles for the introduction of foreign DNA into plants. The newly acquired DNA integrates into the plant´s genome and becomes a stable constituent of the genetic make-up of the transformed plant.
Professor Schell’s studies and research work of over many years led to the elucidation of the molecular basis of crown gall formation on plants by Agrobacterium tumefaciens and the mechanism of DNA transfer to higher plants, and formed the basis for the development of sophisticated vectors and methods for the introduction of novel or modified genes into plants. These developments now allow the stable introduction of desirable genetic traits into plants, also those of agricultural interest. Furthermore, the techniques and vector systems originating from this work are being used to study gene expression in higher plants, in response to hormones, heat shock, pathogens, light and symbiotically nitrogen fixing bacteria and in a tissue specific manner. This led to the identification of tissue specific promoters which can be used to direct the expression of newly introduced genes in the desired tissue (organ) of the plant.
The work of Schell and his coworkers, therefore, represents a major contribution not only to a scientific (molecular) understanding of gene transfer to and gene expression in higher plants, but also offers major new tools for modern plant breeding.