Did you know that Henry Beachell was born today in 1906? He was an agronomist – a scientist that studies crop or plant production. Scientists can create new hybrid plants by mixing the DNA of plants with desirable characteristics. In the 1960’s Beachell developed a new cultivar (type) of rice plant. Eventually this type of rice was known as ‘miracle rice’. It was resilient and produced 2-10 times the amount of rice from traditional plants! It was a miracle because it saved tens of millions of people around the world from starvation.
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For his work, Henry Beachell received the Japan Prize in 1987 and the World Food Prize in 1996.
Henry Beachell continued in consulting work, all the way up until his death at 100 years of age.
While working for the US Department of Agriculture, Henry Beachell creating 9 rice varieties. Eventually these varieties account for 90% of the long-grained rice produced in the US.
The new variety of rice Beachell developed was called IR8. It was a hardier plant and yielded a larger harvest. Along with Dr. Norman Borlaug’s work with wheat, these improved varieties of rice and wheat are credited with saving one-quarter of the world’s population from famine.
IR8 was a crossbreed of high-yielding rice from Indonesia, and a sturdy dwarf rice plant from China.
While IR8 helped to ease the threat of famine, it did not have the best taste or texture. Scientists continue to work to improve plants, making them more disease resistant and easier to grow or to address nutritional needs of the world’s population.