Hawaii Researchers Receive Prestigious 2002 von Humboldt Award for Agriculture

University of Hawaiʻi
Jim Manke, (808) 956-6099
External Affairs & University Relations
Kristen Cabral, (808) 956-5039
Public Information Officer
Posted: Jul 29, 2002

For developing the ringspot virus-resistant papaya that saved the Hawaiian papaya industry, four plant science researchers, three with ties to the University of Hawaiʻi, will receive the prestigious 2002 Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Award for Agriculture.

The research team includes Dennis Gonsalves, UH graduate and center director of the USDA Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center in Hilo; Richard Manshardt, horticulturist in UH‘s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR); UH graduate Maureen Masuda Fitch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and Jerry Slightom of Pharmacia-Upjohn Co.

Representatives of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation will present the award during a ceremony to be held Nov. 4 at Cornell University‘s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, N.Y.

Gonsalves recently returned to Hawaiʻi after an absence of more than 25 years, most spent at Cornell. He earned his bachelor‘s and master‘s degrees from CTAHR and his doctorate degree from the University of California at Davis.

"It is somewhat unique that a group of scientists from different institutions and different expertise worked together early on to use a very new technology to develop and implement a timely solution for a severe agricultural problem in Hawaiʻi," said Gonsalves.

The papaya project was the culmination of more than two decades of research. It resulted in two disease-resistant varieties, Rainbow and SunUp, which were subsequently released to growers in 1998. This gave the $45 million Hawaiian papaya industry a second chance.

"We could not be more pleased that the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation has recognized the excellent work of Dennis Gonsalves and his colleagues. Not only have they helped the Hawaiʻi papaya industry, they have also demonstrated the tremendous potential for good in the use of agricultural biotechnology," said CTAHR Dean Andrew Hashimoto. "Plant scientists worldwide know their work and regard it as a significant contribution to the economic viability of agriculture. I see this success as a model for how we work cooperatively to address challenging scientific questions that are relevant to Hawaiʻi."

The Alexander von Humboldt Award is widely regarded as one of the most prestigious awards made in agriculture. Named in honor of the 19th-century German naturalist and geographer, the award is presented annually to the person or team judged to have made the most significant contribution to American agriculture during the previous five years. The team will receive a $15,000 award, a medallion and certificate. In addition, the foundation has awarded a $5,000 Alfred Toepfer scholarship, which will be given to a Cornell student for agricultural studies in Germany.

This is the first time scientists from UH have won the von Humboldt Award.