Sept. 28, 2011
Dr. Surinder Vasal, an agronomist credited with improving corn productivity and nutrition in malnourished and poverty-stricken areas worldwide, will present a lecture on global food security issues at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 12, at Morningside College.
Vasal’s lecture will be "Plant Breeding Challenges for Enhanced Food and Nutritional Security in the 21st Century.” The lecture, which is open to the public, will take place in the Yockey Family Community Room of the Olsen Student Center, 3609 Peters Ave.
In 2000, Vasal received the World Food Prize with his colleague Dr. Evangelina Villegas for their achievements in breeding and advancing Quality Protein Maize (QPM).
Several hundred million people rely on corn (maize) for their principal daily food, for weaning babies and for feeding livestock. However, conventional corn lacks quality protein content and essential amino acids that the human body must obtain from food. As a result, it is a poor-quality food staple unless consumed as part of a varied diet, which is beyond the means of most people in the developing world. It typically causes malnutrition. Babies weaned on it are frequently underweight, prone to disease and at high risk for starvation.
Modified corn with higher protein content dates back to the 1920s. An “opaque-2” variety developed in 1963 had higher levels of essential amino acids. However, it resulted in lower yields and a taste and appearance that dissatisfied customers, who ultimately rejected it.
Working in Mexico at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, or CIMMYT, Vasal and Villegas combined the existing opaque-2 maize with genetic modifiers to produce by the mid-1980s a Quality Protein Maize germplasm that has an appearance and taste similar to traditional grain and much higher quality levels of amino acids. QPM offers 90 percent of the nutritional value of skim milk, the standard for adequate nutrition. Today QPM varieties are grown on roughly 9 million acres worldwide.
Former CIMMYT Director General Timothy Reeves stated that “the efforts of Drs. Villegas and Vasal have laid the foundation for what will be one of the most important contributions to food security in human history.”
Vasal will be in Iowa to attend the World Food Prize Norman E. Borlaug International Symposium in Des Moines Oct. 12-14. Each year the symposium brings experts from around the world to Iowa to discuss agriculture and global development issues.
The World Food Prize was created in 1986 to recognize the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world. The World Food Prize was conceived by Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, an Iowa native and recipient of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in world agriculture. In 1990, Des Moines businessman and philanthropist John Ruan assumed sponsorship of the prize and established The World Food Prize Foundation in Des Moines.