Innovator award bestowed upon the late Ray Wu

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Melissa Osgood
Ray Wu

Ray J. Wu, the late Cornell professor of molecular biology and genetics who was widely recognized as one of the fathers of plant genetic engineering, from which sprang the development of widely grown rice plants resistant to pests, drought and salt, won posthumously the 2013 Ezra Technology Innovator Award.

The award, which presented at the 2013 Technology Innovations Gala Reception Oct. 24 to recognize an outstanding Cornell innovator whose inventions have significant impact on society, was accepted by Christina Wu, Wu’s widow. Wu died in 2008.

During his long research career at Cornell, Wu generated many inventions, including a method to allow the cloning of genes across DNA fragments produced by different restriction enzymes. The method is now a standard cloning approach broadly used today.

Another invention provides the use of a rice actin promoter to express foreign genes in monocotyledonous plants, such as corn, rice, wheat and other plant species in the “grass” (Gramineae) family. This invention has been widely adopted, and it is now being used in many genetically modified plants sold by major seed companies.

A more recent invention by Wu includes the use of trehalose-6-phosphate synthase (TPS) gene in the production of drought-tolerant plants. Various drought-tolerant transgenic plants are being field tested by industry partners to enable the expansion of agriculture to many arid areas for food production.

The Technology Innovations Gala Reception is a biennial event organized by the Cornell Center for Technology Enterprise and Commercialization and supported by the university to recognize Cornell researchers whose inventions or work of authorship have successfully been licensed to industry partners for commercial development in the previous two years.

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