E. Meyerowitz: Acceptance Speech – Rome, 24.11.2006

USA - USA/Canada

Elliot Meyerowitz and Christopher Somerville

2006 Balzan Prize for Plant Molecular Genetics

For their joint efforts in establishing Arabidopsis as a model organism for plant molecular genetics. This has far reaching implications for plant science at both the fundamental level and in potential applications.

Mr. President,

Members of the Balzan Foundation,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

it is a great pleasure to accept a share of this year’s Balzan Prize for Plant Molecular Genetics, and especially a pleasure to share it with Chris Somerville, with whom I have collaborated in many different ways, for more than 20 years. I accept the Prize in recognition of the fact that I am receiving it as a representative. First, I am here as a representative of my own laboratory, whose work is being recognized, and in which I am only one of many people working to advance our knowledge of plants. The work for which I am being honored here has been a cooperative effort that has involved postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, undergraduate and even high school students, as well as a long list of visiting professors and associates who have worked with me over the more than 25 years that I have been working with plants. Thus, in a real sense, I am accepting this Prize on behalf of almost 200 people who have worked with all of their effort toward a common goal, over many years. In accepting it, I recognize that it is their effort that has led to the Prize, and I thank them all, along with the Balzan Foundation.

I accept the Prize also as a representative of my entire field of study; plant molecular genetics, which was selected as the Prize subject this year. The study of plants has been of primary importance to modern genetics. Among the well-known and critical aspects of genetics first described in plants are the cell, the cellular nucleus, the gene, viruses, , transposable elements, and recently, RNA interference (originally called cosuppression, or antisense suppression). The attention paid by the Balzan Foundation to this field is most welcome, as it will bring notice to the past successes of plant biologists, and even more, to the future promise of additional fundamental discoveries, and by doing this it will attract the next generation of students to the field.

The study of plants, and plant genetics, has also been of primary importance to human well-being – the basis for the productivity of modern agriculture is hybrid crops and the genetic manipulations that have made them possible over the past one hundred years, the green revolution of fifty years ago that brought new mutant strains and cultural conditions to some of the areas most needing crop productivity, and we are living now in a period where another leap in agricultural productivity is occurring due to a new type of genetic modification, at the molecular level. While this newest crop technology is not without controversy, it is generally acknowledged that its application will be the only way that we can continue to feed the hungry as the world’s population increases. I thank the Balzan Foundation for recognizing my field of study, and for allowing me to represent it here. I also thank my many colleagues, including Chris and Shauna Somerville, and Marc Van Montagu, for making plant molecular genetics such an exciting and friendly field of science.

Finally, I would like to thank my family, especially my wife Joan Kobori, without whom I could never have achieved anything – her love, and dedication to our family, is what has made it possible for me to devote time to science, to my laboratory, and to the development of plant molecular genetics, even at times when I should have been at home. Thus, I also accept the Balzan Prize on behalf of Joan, as she has done as much as I to allow me to be here today to accept it.

Thanks once again for the extraordinary honor which you have brought to me, my colleagues, my family, and to plant molecular genetics.

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