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Photo: Donald K. Barnes
Donald K. Barnes
Camera: Link to videovideo clip

Three Scientists Inducted into Research Agency's Hall of Fame

By Erin Peabody
September 15, 2004

WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 2004--More vigorous alfalfa plants, easy-care cotton fabrics and advances in beef cattle breeding have earned three Agricultural Research Service scientists places in the agency's Science Hall of Fame. ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Donald K. Barnes, Ruth Rogan Benerito and Keith E. Gregory will be honored in a ceremony tonight at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington. They will be presented plaques citing their respective accomplishments.

"These three scientists, with more than 100 years of collective service in ARS, have made major contributions to the field of agricultural research," said ARS Administrator Edward B. Knipling.

The ARS Hall of Fame program began in 1986 to recognize agency researchers for outstanding achievements in agricultural science. The inductees are nominated by their peers and must be retired, or eligible to retire, to receive the honor.

Photo: Ruth Rogan Benerito
Ruth Rogan Benerito
Camera: Link to videovideo clip

Barnes was a pioneer in alfalfa breeding and genetics. For 30 years, he conducted or led others in alfalfa research at the agency's Plant Science Research Unit in St. Paul, Minn. Striving to improve the crop's resistance to diseases and insects and its ability to transform nitrogen from the air into a form usable by the plant as "natural fertilizer," he developed 59 new alfalfa varieties and sources of starter seed material, or germplasm, throughout his career.

The research on alfalfa's natural ability to "fix" or make its own nitrogen was perhaps Barnes' most notable achievement. That work, which included the establishment of a plant breeding program that is still ongoing, has helped reduce the need for additional fertilizer and the potential for excess nitrogen to cause surface and groundwater pollution. Barnes and his colleagues earned the USDA Secretary's Certificate of Merit Award in 1982 for their nitrogen fixation research.

For 33 years, Benerito worked at what is now the agency's Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans, La. As research leader of the Physical-Chemical Investigations Unit in the Cotton Chemical Reactions Laboratory, she played a key role in groundbreaking research that helped bring smooth-drying properties to cotton fibers, boosting their competitiveness with synthetic fibers introduced in the 1950s and '60s.

Photo:Keith E. Gregory
Keith E. Gregory
Camera: Link to videovideo clip

That cotton became the standard for apparel fabrics because it combined comfort and breathability with easy care. The work helped to trigger a remarkable 20-year expansion of cotton use for apparel, revitalizing an old industry. It also earned Benerito a Lemelson-Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lifetime Achievement Award for Invention, which honors individuals for their lifelong commitment to improving society through invention.

After a 43-year career with ARS, Gregory is being recognized for his contributions to beef cattle genetics and breeding. His research has helped shape the selection procedures and breeding systems used to capitalize on the benefits of crossbreeding in the U.S. beef cattle industry.

Gregory was the first director of ARS' Roman L. Hruska U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Neb. Through his leadership and vision, a multidisciplinary research program was established that is now internationally recognized. As a collaborator, Gregory continues to offer guidance on a research project that is investigating the selection of specific cattle for breeding purposes based on those animals' increased likelihood of giving birth to multiple calves.

Permanent copies of the plaques presented to the scientists will be on display at the ARS National Visitor Center in Beltsville, Md.