23 March 2010

Rice and wheat strains

The invention:

Artificially created high-yielding wheat and rice
varieties that are helping food producers in developing countries
keep pace with population growth
The people behind the invention:

Orville A. Vogel (1907-1991), an agronomist who developed
high-yielding semidwarf winter wheats and equipment for
wheat research
Norman E. Borlaug (1914- ), a distinguished agricultural
Robert F. Chandler, Jr. (1907-1999), an international agricultural
consultant and director of the International Rice Research
Institute, 1959-1972
William S. Gaud (1907-1977), a lawyer and the administrator of
the U.S. Agency for International Development, 1966-1969

The Problem of Hunger

In the 1960’s, agricultural scientists created new, high-yielding
strains of rice and wheat designed to fight hunger in developing
countries. Although the introduction of these new grains raised levels
of food production in poor countries, population growth and
other factors limited the success of the so-called “Green Revolution.”
Before World War II, many countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin
America exported grain toWestern Europe. After the war, however,
these countries began importing food, especially from the United
States. By 1960, they were importing about nineteen million tons of
grain a year; that level nearly doubled to thirty-six million tons in
1966. Rapidly growing populations forced the largest developing
countries—China, India, and Brazil in particular—to import huge
amounts of grain. Famine was averted on the Indian subcontinent
in 1966 and 1967 only by the United States shipping wheat to the region.
The United States then changed its food policy. Instead of contributing
food aid directly to hungry countries, the U.S. began working to help such countries feed themselves.
The new rice and wheat strains were introduced just as countries
in Africa and Asia were gaining their independence from the European
nations that had colonized them. The ColdWar was still going
strong, and Washington and other Western capitals feared that the
Soviet Union was gaining influence in the emerging countries. To
help counter this threat, the U.S. Agency for International Development
(USAID) was active in the ThirdWorld in the 1960’s, directing
or contributing to dozens of agricultural projects, including building
rural infrastructure (farm-to-market roads, irrigation projects,
and rural electric systems), introducing modern agricultural techniques,
and importing fertilizer or constructing fertilizer factories in
other countries. By raising the standard of living of impoverished
people in developing countries through applying technology to agriculture,
policymakers hoped to eliminate the socioeconomic conditions
that would support communism.


The invention: A drug with unique hypertension-decreasing effects
that provides clinical medicine with a versatile and effective
The people behind the invention:
Robert Wallace Wilkins (1906- ), an American physician and
clinical researcher
Walter E. Judson (1916- ) , an American clinical researcher
Treating Hypertension
Excessively elevated blood pressure, clinically known as “hypertension,”
has long been recognized as a pervasive and serious human
malady. In a few cases, hypertension is recognized as an effect
brought about by particular pathologies (diseases or disorders). Often,
however, hypertension occurs as the result of unknown causes.
Despite the uncertainty about its origins, unattended hypertension
leads to potentially dramatic health problems, including increased
risk of kidney disease, heart disease, and stroke.
Recognizing the need to treat hypertension in a relatively straightforward
and effective way, Robert Wallace Wilkins, a clinical researcher
at Boston University’s School of Medicine and the head of
Massachusetts Memorial Hospital’s Hypertension Clinic, began to
experiment with reserpine in the early 1950’s. Initially, the samples
that were made available to Wilkins were crude and unpurified.
Eventually, however, a purified version was used.
Reserpine has a long and fascinating history of use—both clinically
and in folk medicine—in India. The source of reserpine is the
root of the shrub Rauwolfia serpentina, first mentioned in Western
medical literature in the 1500’s but virtually unknown, or at least
unaccepted, outside India until the mid-twentieth century. Crude
preparations of the shrub had been used for a variety of ailments in
India for centuries prior to its use in the West.
Wilkins’s work with the drug did not begin on an encouraging
note, because reserpine does not act rapidly—a fact that had been
noted in Indian medical literature. The standard observation in
Western pharmacotherapy, however, was that most drugs work
rapidly; if a week has elapsed without positive effects being shown
by a drug, the conventional Western wisdom is that it is unlikely
to work at all. Additionally, physicians and patients alike tend to
look for rapid improvement or at least positive indications. Reserpine
is deceptive in this temporal context, andWilkins and his
coworkers were nearly deceived. In working with crude preparations
of Rauwolfia serpentina, they were becoming very pessimistic,
when a patient who had been treated for many consecutive
days began to show symptomatic relief. Nevertheless, only after
months of treatment did Wilkins become a believer in the drug’s
beneficial effects.