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Photo: Hawaiian papayas, Carica papaya. Link to photo information
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Papaya Research Garners Alexander von Humboldt Award

By Marcia Wood
November 4, 2002

Researchers who gave Hawaii's growers of exotic tropical papayas a way to keep ringspot virus from devastating this luscious tropical fruit today received a top scientific honor, the 2002 Alexander von Humboldt Award for Agriculture. Agricultural Research Service plant pathologist Dennis Gonsalves and plant physiologist Maureen M. Fitch, both with the agency's U.S. Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center in Hawaii, share the honor with colleagues Richard M. Manshardt of the University of Hawaii, Honolulu, and Jerry L. Slightom of Pharmacia Company, Kalamazoo, Mich.

The award, which includes a cash prize, was announced earlier this year and presented this morning at a ceremony in Geneva, N.Y. Gonsalves was a researcher there with Cornell University's New York State Agricultural Experiment Station for more than two decades before joining the Agricultural Research Service in May 2002. He is director of the Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center, headquartered at Hilo. ARS co-investigator Maureen Fitch is based at Aiea, just outside of Honolulu.

Using techniques of modern biotechnology, paired with conventional plant breeding, the scientists genetically engineered papaya to resist attack by ringspot virus. Through a unique partnership, the researchers were able to use proprietary, virus-resistance genes licensed to the Papaya Administrative Committee. The committee represents papaya growers in the Hawaiian Islands.

Seeds of the research team's ringspot-resistant UH SunUp and UH Rainbow papayas were made available in 1998 for growers to evaluate, including those whose orchards had been hit by the virus. Now widely planted, the new varieties have shown excellent resistance to the virus, according to Gonsalves.

Hawaii's farmers produce nearly the entire U.S. papaya crop. Their 2001 harvest of more than 55 million pounds had a farm-gate value of more than $14 million.

The Alexander von Humboldt Award for Agriculture is given annually to the person or team making the most significant contribution to U.S. agriculture during the previous five years.

Papayas have yellow to reddish-orange flesh when ripe and provide fiber, vitamins A and C, and potassium.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.

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