Experience with Hunger

Ingo Potrykus, the experimental team's head scientist, knew all too well how hunger felt. Born on December 5, 1933, in Hirschberg, Germany, he had grown up during World War II. His father, a doctor, was killed near the end of the war, and after Germany's defeat, Potrykus and his brothers "had to beg, steal and scrounge for food," New York Times reporter Jon Christensen wrote in an article about Potrykus published on November 21, 2000.

Perhaps this painful experience drew Potrykus to do research on food plants. After studying biology at the University of Cologne, he obtained his Ph.D. in plant genetics in 1968 from the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research, also in Cologne. He worked for several years at the University of Hohenheim, and then established a small laboratory at the Max Planck Institute for Plant Genetics in Ladenburg/Heidelberg, Germany, in the mid-1970s. He moved to a larger laboratory, consisting of three research groups, at the Friedrich Miescher Institute in Basel, Switzerland, in 1976 and earned his habilitation in botany, an advanced degree, from the University of Basel in 1982.

Potrykus joined the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETHZ), where he would spend the rest of his career, as a full professor in 1986. Within this large organization he and another professor established a new section, the Institute of Plant Sciences, which focused on the use of genetic engineering technology to increase food supplies in developing countries. (The first genetically engineered plants had been created in 1982.)

Ingo Potrykus developed a genetically altered form of rice that supporters say can combat a common form of malnutrition in developing countries, but critics claim that biotechnology companies benefit more from the rice than poor people ever will. (Ingo Potrykus)

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