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Cornell plant breeder Steven Tanksley is a co-recipient of the international Wolf Foundation Prize in Agriculture

ITHACA, N.Y. -- Steven D. Tanksley, the Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor of Plant Breeding and chair of the Genomics Initiative Task Force at Cornell University, is one of two scientists to share the prestigious 2004 Wolf Foundation Prize in Agriculture for "innovative development of hybrid rice and discovery of the genetic basis of heterosis in this important food staple."

Each year since 1978, the Wolf Foundation, which is based in Israel, has awarded five Wolf Prizes to outstanding living scientists in agriculture, chemistry, mathematics, medicine and physics as well as one to a person in the arts. The prizes are intended to promote science and art for the benefit of mankind, and prize winners are selected by international committees of three renowned experts in each field. The Wolf Prizes are among the most prestigious scientific awards in the world.

Tanksley also was cited by the Wolf Prize Committee as "one of the world leaders in plant genomic research. He has contributed to the understanding of heterosis in rice by identifying genes in a wild ancestor that significantly increased yields... Tanksley's research has led to the discovery of the genetic basis of hybrid vigor in this important food staple - a discovery with profound implications for promoting the science of plant breeding for the benefit of humankind." He shares the award and its $100,000 prize with Yuan Longping of the China National Hybrid Rice Research and Development Center.

"I am delighted by the award made to Steve Tanksley by the Wolf Foundation," said Robert Richardson, vice provost for research at Cornell and a winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize in physics. "The Wolf Prize is one of the most important medals a scientist can receive. The recognition of Steve for the work he has done at Cornell brings great credit to us and enhances our reputation in plant genetics as one of the great research centers of the world."

The award will be presented by Moshe Katsav, president of the State of Israel, at the Knesset (parliament) in Jerusalem, May 9.

The Wolf Prize Committee for Agriculture summarized, in the award announcement, the research for which Tanksley was honored: "Tanksley has demonstrated that quantitatively inherited traits spanning an entire genome can be dissected into their corresponding Mendelian factors, called quantitative trait loci (QTL). This enables identification of rate-limiting genes associated with crop performance. His demonstration has led to a cascade of experiments by other researchers, who detected and mapped QTLs in a wide array of other organisms. Within Tanksley's own group, QTL analysis in rice led to the discovery of the genetic basis of hybrid vigor in this important food staple, allowing further developments to increase rice yields. These advances have profound implications in promoting the science of plant breeding for the benefit of humankind."

In addition to developing the first molecular map of rice, Tanksley also developed the first molecular map of tomatoes. He was the first plant geneticist to use map-based cloning of a pest-resistance gene in a crop plant. He also developed computer programs and databases for the management and analysis of molecular genetic data. As the chair of the Genomics Initiative Task Force at Cornell, Tanksley leads 75 faculty members from 25 departments and six colleges in a coordinated web of research and learning focused on genomics.

Tanksley received a bachelor's degree in agronomy from Colorado State University in 1976 and a doctorate in genetics from the University of California-Davis in 1979. He joined the faculty of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell in 1985 as an associate professor of plant breeding, was named a professor in 1994 and a Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor in the same year. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1995 and is also the recipient of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Award and the Martin Gibbs Medal of the American Society of Plant Physiology.

Tanksley is the fifth Wolf Prize recipient from Cornell. Past winners at Cornell have included: Michael E. Fisher and Kenneth G. Wilson, 1980, in physics; Wendell L. Roelofs, 1982, in agriculture; and Mitchell J. Feigenbaum, 1986, in physics.

The Wolf Foundation was established by the late German-born inventor, diplomat and philanthropist, Ricardo Wolf. A resident of Cuba for many years, Wolf became President Fidel Castro's ambassador to Israel in 1961 and lived there until his death in 1981. Five annual Wolf Prizes have been awarded since 1978 to outstanding scientists and artists "for achievements in the interest of mankind and friendly relations among peoples, irrespective of nationality, race, color, religion, sex, or political view." To date, 214 scientists and artists from 20 countries have been honored.

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