Continuing the Legacy: BIO to Present George Washington Carver Award

BIO will announce the 2011 winner of the annual George Washington Carver Award at the World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing in May.

The award, named for the American scientist who changed the nature of farming by using science to make everyday products from agricultural materials, is given to innovators who are currently using biotechnology to convert renewable agricultural or forestry resources into industrial products. A scholarship, given in the name of the recipient, accompanies the award.

Carver was one of the standard bearers of the “chemurgy” movement, the branch of applied chemistry that derives industrial products from agricultural raw materials. He devoted his professional life to teaching sustainable farming techniques and developing new uses for agricultural products to boost farm profits.

For instance, Carver was responsible for developing more than 300 industrial uses for peanuts, sweet potatoes and other crops that could be grown in rotation with corn and cotton. All told, Carver’s inventions included everyday products such as plastics, paints, soaps, glue, medicines and cosmetics ingredients.

The spirit of Carver’s chemurgy is evident in industrial biotechnology. High oil prices and environmental concerns combined with great advances in bioengineering have renewed interest in the field. To spotlight the potential uses and raise awareness, BIO created the Carver Award and named the first winner in 2008.

The award honors individuals in academia, the private sector or government whose work has tapped industrial biotechnology to develop sustainable biobased processes or products. Last year’s winner was Dr. Greg Stephanopoulos, the Bayer Professor of Chemical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Stephanopoulos developed processes for integrating highly engineered microbes in industrial settings to produce amino acids (such as indandiol, which is a vital precursor of the anti-HIV medication Crixivan) and important diterpenes (such as lycopene and taxadiene, a precursor to the cancer drug taxol). He is currently working on engineering a microbe for cost-effective production of oil and biodiesel.

The 8th Annual World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing, where the award will be given out, is the world’s largest industrial biotechnology event. Business leaders, policymakers and investors in biofuels, biobased products and renewable chemicals will convene in Toronto this year to exchange ideas and practical accomplishments. This year attendance is expected to top 1,000 scientists, investors and government officials.