Daniel Debouck is to be awarded the Frank N Meyer Medal for Plant Genetic
Resources, for his tireless work to collect and conserve crop plant
The award, given by the Crop Science Society of America (CSSA),
recognizes dedication and service to humanity through collecting, evaluating,
or conserving plant genetic material. It is named after agricultural
explorer Frank Nicholas Meyer, who worked for the US Department of Agriculture
in the early 1900s, and who lost his life in the waters of China’s
Yangtze River while on a collection mission.
"It's an honour," said Dr Debouck. "I hope it sends a
positive signal to the younger generation that there are still a lot
of crop variants and relatives to be studied in the field."
Dr Debouck, who has worked for CIAT since 1977, heads the Center's Genetic
Resources Program and is responsible for running one of the largest
gene banks in Latin America, with over 65,000 different samples of beans,
forages, and cassava. At CIAT he has undertaken no fewer than 29 explorations
to 14 Latin American countries to collect and conserve wild, undocumented
bean varieties, and he is responsible for introducing over 3,000 new,
previously unknown samples to the CIAT gene bank. He also led the CGIAR's
successful legal challenge to overturn the infamous "Enola"
yellow bean patent.
As well as a passion for scientific discovery, Debouck continues to
be driven by the need to conserve. "I found a new wild bean relative
in Guatemala in 1985," he explained, "and when I returned
2 years later, the site has been completely destroyed. It was particularly
sad to discover that a species so recently discovered was probably already
extinct in the wild."
"Many people think that if we can collect a particular variety
today we can collect it tomorrow", he continued, "but this
is not the case due to the advance of agriculture and urbanization.
Some species may have taken one million years or more to evolve, and
landraces thousands of years, but they can be lost completely in a single
generation, or less.
"It's not just the physical increase of the plant collections that
is important," he continued. "What comes with it is new knowledge
and a new understanding. As you're filling in the gaps in the gene bank
and gaps in our knowledge, the pieces of the puzzle come together to
help you to see the bigger picture.
"If we want to cope with climate change and feeding ourselves,
it’s better to understand that picture sooner rather than later."
Dr Debouck will receive the award at a ceremony in California, United
States, in November 2010, during the CSSA’s 2010 annual meeting.
"Of course, it's going to mean lot more work," said Dr Debouck.
"But I’m excited about the prospect!"
** Follow the link to read the "Guardian
of Biodiversity" profile of Dr Debouck in the 2010 edition
of Geneflow, produced by CIAT’s CGIAR sister center
Daniel Debouck (email@example.com)