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Leon Kochian
Leon V. Kochian
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Donald Ort
Donald R. Ort
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Ralpha Scorza
Ralph Scorza
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Scott Yates
Scott R. Yates
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Four Scientists Named to Agricultural Research Service Science Hall of Fame

By Kim Kaplan
September 16, 2015

WASHINGTON, Sept. 16, 2015—Four scientists have been named to the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Science Hall of Fame for discoveries in genomics, sustainable farming, fruit tree breeding, air quality, climate change and crop mineral nutrition. ARS is the chief intramural scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Leon V. Kochian, Donald R. Ort, Ralph Scorza and Scott R. Yates will be honored today in a ceremony at the ARS National Agricultural Library in Beltsville, Maryland. ARS established the Science Hall of Fame in 1986 to honor senior agency researchers for outstanding, lifelong achievements in agricultural science and technology. Nominees must be retired or eligible to retire to receive the award.

“The extraordinary contributions of these four scientists have had a significant impact on food and agriculture worldwide,” said ARS Administrator Chavonda Jacobs-Young. “Their outstanding accomplishments demonstrate commitment, knowledge and perseverance and exemplify the values that have made ARS the premier agricultural research organization that it is today.”

Kochian, center director of the ARS Robert W. Holley Center for Agriculture & Health in Ithaca, New York, is a world leader in research on the adaptation of cereal crops to marginal soils, especially those limited by mineral deficiencies. Some of his most important work has been unraveling the strategies that plants use to tolerate toxic metals in the highly weathered soils of the tropics and subtropics—regions where many developing countries are located and food security is most tenuous. Kochian and his group carried out pioneering studies that identified the physiological mechanisms and the associated genes that allow the major cereal crops (maize, rice, sorghum and wheat) to tolerate toxic aluminum levels in acid soils. He also has contributed seminal findings towards a better understanding of how plant ion transporters function as well as the role root biology processes play in mineral nutrition. This work is helping subsistence farmers in the developing countries grow more crops and has contributed to global food security.

Ort, plant physiologist and research leader of the ARS Global Change and Photosynthesis Research Unit in Urbana, Illinois, has been unraveling how changes in atmospheric composition expected with climate change will affect biochemical processes related to plant development, photosynthesis, water use and crop yields. His ground breaking research made it possible for the first time to conduct field studies on the interactions of rising atmospheric carbon dioxide with drought and rising atmospheric carbon dioxide with warming on crops. He and his group then identified promising ways to improve crops such as soybeans and corn to meet future food production needs under potential changing climatic conditions, ensuring that farmers will be able to maintain the global food supply.

Scorza, a research horticulturist and lead scientist at the ARS Appalachian Fruit Research Laboratory in Kearneysville, West Virginia, is nationally and internationally recognized for his pioneering work genetically enhancing fruit tree structure, developing new stone fruit varieties, and for using biotechnology techniques to improve woody perennial fruit species. Scorza has released 12 varieties of peaches, nectarines and plums, including those with disease resistance and improved flavors, several of which have become industry standards. His group also developed the ‘FasTrack’ breeding system that dramatically reduces the generation time for stone fruit species using a biotech approach to stimulate early flowering and fruiting. He has anticipated the spread of the exotic Plum pox virus into the United States and developed the first genetically engineered Plum pox virus resistant fruit tree to be approved for cultivation in this country.

Yates, soil scientist and research leader of the ARS Contaminant Fate and Transport Research Unit at the U.S. Salinity Laboratory in Riverside, California, is an internationally renowned expert in reducing the harmful effects of soil fumigation used for controlling pests in high-valued crops such as strawberries, vegetables, tree fruits and nuts, and in mitigating the atmospheric emissions from such fumigants. Yates’s research has provided the bulk of the information and technology that forms the basis of soil fumigation regulations. His technique to measure fumigant (vapor) movement through agricultural films used to trap emissions has become an American Society for Testing and Materials standard and has been adopted by industry for measuring film permeability. This method is helping increase crop production by showing where buffer zones of non-fumigated soil can be reduced and still leave passersby protected.