Mary Dell-Chilton.
Mary Dell-Chilton.

Mary-Dell Chilton, Ph.D., a distinguished science fellow at Syngenta, was honored as an inductee into the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Hall of Heroes in Washington, D.C., Nov. 5 with USDA secretary Tom Vilsack presiding. Established in September 2000, the USDA Hall of Heroes recognizes those that have had a lasting impact on agriculture and related programs.

Dr. Chilton’s work with plant biotechnology led her to produce the first transgenic plant in 1983 and demonstrated that plant genomes could be altered more precisely than previously thought. Her research at Syngenta has resulted in improving the ability of plants to resist insects and disease, tolerate extreme environmental conditions and deliver other traits that enhance the value of crops. 

“Dr. Chilton’s research has forever changed the way we conduct plant research and her groundbreaking accomplishments have shaped the way genetic plant research is conducted today,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “I am pleased to honor Dr. Mary-Dell Chilton for her leadership and tremendous contributions to the field of agriculture.”

In 2014, 18 million farmers in 28 countries planted nearly 450 million acres of biotech crops. Since their commercial introduction in 1996, through 2013, the estimated increase in crop productivity is more than $130 billion1.

“My career in biotechnology has been an exciting journey, and I am amazed to see the progress we have made over the years,” said Dr. Chilton. “My hope is that through continued scientific discoveries, we will be able to provide a brighter and better future for the generations that follow us. I am proud of my efforts and my Syngenta colleagues’ continued drive to innovate new ways to deliver solutions to farmers. That’s what it’s all about.”

Dr. Chilton is only the second woman to be inducted into the USDA Hall of Heroes. Past inductees include American inventor George Washington Carver and children’s nutrition advocate Isabelle Kelley.

Earlier this year, Dr. Chilton was inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame at the United States Patent and Trademark Office in recognition of her groundbreaking work in transgenic plants. In 2013, she received the World Food Prize, the foremost international award recognizing individuals who positively impact the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world. 

Dr. Chilton and Cesar Chavez were the 2015 Hall of Heroes inductees. Their portraits will be displayed in the entry hall of USDA's Jamie L. Whitten Federal Building as a permanent tribute to their agricultural contributions.