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80s and 90s

Roy A. Young served as managing director from 1980 to 1986. He came to the institute from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, where he was chancellor. His experience in university administration helped him further the institute’s professional collaborations with Cornell University. Young initiated a capital fundraising campaign during his tenure that resulted in the establishment of the Boyce Schulze Downey Scientist position.

Robert J. Kohut joined the institute in 1980. He led a research project sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency that assessed the effects of ozone and other pollutants on agricultural production. The institute was one of five research sites for this nationwide program. By the early 1980s concern had increased about the effects on forest growth—of acid rain alone and combined with other pollutants. From 1986 to 1992 Kohut, John Laurence, and Robert G. Amundson were co-investigators, with Laurence as the leader, on a project to evaluate the responses of red spruce and sugar maple trees to these pollutants. Kohut continued his air-quality and forest-related studies until his retirement at the end of 2004.

Stephen H. Howell, the first Boyce Schulze Downey Scientist, joined the institute in 1988 and has distinguished himself in molecular-genetic studies of plant-virus interactions, hormone responses, and aluminum resistance in plants.

Robert L. Last was at the institute from 1989 to 1998. He investigated the regulation of amino acid biosynthesis, using the techniques of genetics and molecular biology to study the genetic control of metabolism in Arabidopsis plants. In 1990 he received the National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award.

David B. Stern came to the institute in 1989; his research has focused on the regulation of gene expression in plant chloroplasts and mitochondria. Stern was awarded a National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award in 1992. He is now the president of BTI.

Ralph W. F. Hardy, president from 1986 to 1995, contributed significantly to the institute by aggressively protecting its intellectual property, which was beginning to expand. His leadership led to an important patent portfolio. In 1988 he founded the National Agricultural Biotechnology Council, a consortium of major not-for-profit agricultural teaching and research institutions that meets annually to discuss key issues in biotechnology.

In the 1990s many new scientists joined the institute and further expanded research in molecular biology of plants and insects, biodiversity, and environmental biology. Charles J. Arntzen served as president from 1995 to 2000 and garnered media attention for his work on plant-based vaccines. He was succeeded by Daniel F. Klessig, who held the presidency until 2004 and continues to study plant disease resistance at BTI.

William B. Thompson’s hopes for BTI have been more than fulfilled. During the course of the twentieth century, plant scientists—with institute scientists often among the leaders—have contributed to the development of disease- and pest-resistant crop plants, helping to ensure food surpluses in our country. They have been leaders in environmental research, working to provide the necessary knowledge to balance the need both for industry and for preservation of the natural environment. They have demonstrated the unique advantages of plant biology for medical research, revealing that disease, fundamental physiological processes, and genetics are, in some cases, more easily studied in plants and insects than in animals. Their research in plants has contributed unique insights to medical knowledge and will lead to new experimental techniques and valuable plant-derived medicines.

The Boyce Thompson Institute has, in many respects, always been ahead of its time. Today, because of its strong investment in some of the most quickly developing and promising scientific fields, including genomics and gene profiling, the institute stands uniquely poised to provide leadership in research that will be of value to human welfare for many years to come.

In plant science there are enough unsolved riddles to tax the best scientific genius for decades to come.
— William Crocker



We are grateful to Leonard H. Weinstein for his assistance with this history section. Much of the information in this history was taken from S. E. A. McCallan’s book, A Personalized History of Boyce Thompson Institute, published in 1975; William Crocker’s book, Growth of Plants: Twenty Years’ Research at Boyce Thompson Institute, published in 1948; and the Contributions of Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, 1925–1971.