Biotechnology might seem like a new science to many, but it has its roots in the work of some early big thinkers — among them George Washington Carver, arguably one of the world’s first industrial biotechnologists and the father of sustainable farming.
Come June, BIO will give a nod to Carver’s biotech heritage when it honors an individual for groundbreaking industrial biotech work with the third annual George Washington Carver Award for Innovation in Industrial Biotechnology.
To help farmers adopt sustainable practices, Carver and his students developed more than 300 industrial uses for peanuts, sweet potatoes and other crops that could be grown in rotation with cotton and corn. His inventions included plastics, glue, soaps, paints, dyes for cloth and leather, medicines and cosmetic ingredients — all made from crops and agricultural residues.
In 2008, Dr. Patrick Gruber, CEO of Gevo, became the first innovator to receive the award, for his formative work developing a biobased plastic. Last year, BIO honored DuPont Chairman Charles “Chad” O. Holliday Jr. for fostering biotech R&D and recognizing the economic potential of biobased products.
“The field has developed in ways that Carver may never have imagined, but the work of industrial biotech companies remains true to the goal of a sustainable agricultural economy that includes production of useful everyday products,” says Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO’s Industrial and Environmental Section.
That’s certainly true of the pioneering work of both Gruber and Holliday.
Gruber succeeded in developing and bringing a new plastic to market made from renewable resources while he worked at Cargill Dow/NatureWorks from 1997 to 2005. He spearheaded the company’s market introduction of NatureWorks™ PLA and Ingeo™ fibers. In 2000, he oversaw the launch of the first large-scale manufacturing facility for a material developed from 100 percent annually renewable resources. That work ignited research into renewable biobased products in the plastics industry.
Holliday meanwhile led DuPont’s move into biobased R&D when he was the chemical giant’s CEO. The company’s sugar fermentation work with renewable ingredients manufacturer Tate & Lyle resulted in DuPont making renewable fuels and chemicals in a biorefinery. Today, under the aegis of the U.S. Energy Department, DuPont works with its partners on furthering the concept and making it commercially viable.
To set the stage for future innovations, a scholarship to Carver’s alma mater, Iowa State University, will be given in conjunction with the award.
BIO will accept nominations for the Carver Award online until April 12. Nominees must be living individuals who have significantly and innovatively employed biotechnology to advance industrial sustainability and a biobased economy.
The award’s recipient will be honored at the 2010 World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing, to be held June 27–30 in Washington, D.C.