Dr GS Khush-
The undisputed Hero of Rice revolution
“It is a measure of Dr Khush's stature as the world's foremost rice breeder that, in any rice field, anywhere in the world, there's a 60 percent chance that the rice was either bred at IRRI under his leadership or developed from IRRI varieties.”
The man who is often referred to as one of the fathers of the Green Revolution in rice cultivation is none other than Dr Gurdev Khush, a plant breeder and geneticist by profession and is one of the world's authorities on crop breeding and a major force behind the development of productive rice varieties and the Green Revolution in plant breeding.
Dr GS Khush was born in a small village in Punjab and received his education at the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana in 1955. Then in 1957, he applied for his doctorate and was accepted by the University of California at Davis, where he studied with two legendary plant geneticists Ledyard Stebbins and Charles Rick. At an early age of 25, Dr Khush completed his PhD in genetics in less than three years after joining the University of California and studied the tomato genomics with Dr Rick for seven years.
In 1967, Dr Khush joined the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Manila and in less than five years of joining IRRI, Dr Khush became the head of IRRI's plant breeding department and developed his own new variety of "miracle rice", IR36. This was developed using IR8 as a genetic base and cross breeding it with 13 parent varieties from six nations. He led IRRI to the forefront in the improvement of rice varieties. Prior to the beginning of the Green Revolution, varieties of rice took 6-7 months to mature and yielded about 1-2 tons per hectare. Dr Khush modified the plant by reducing its height, shortening maturing time, and increasing response to fertilizers. Under optimal conditions, these plants can yield up to 10 tons per hectare. The combination of these characteristics soon made IR36 one of the most widely planted food crop varieties the world has ever known. IR64 later replaced IR36 as the world's most popular variety and IR72, released in 1990, became the world's highest-yielding variety.
For his monumental contributions to the World Food Security, Dr Khush has been honored with numerous awards and honors. Perhaps no other NRI scientist has received as many awards and honors as Dr Khush. He has received honorary doctorates from ten universities, including a doctorate from Cambridge in 2000 and a doctorate from Guru Nanak Dev University in the year 2007 in India. In 2007, Dr Khush was awarded the Golden Sickle Award, honoring researchers who have made a considerable contribution or accomplishment in rice research. In addition, Dr Khush received the Borlaug Award in 1977, the Japan Prize in 1987, the 2000 Wolf Prize in Agriculture, the 2001 International Scientific and Technological Cooperation Award from the Government of China, and the Padma Shri award from president of India in 2001. Dr Khush was elected to some of the world's most prestigious academies such as Indian National Science Academy, The Third world Academy of Sciences, U.S. National Academy of Sciences and The Royal Society, and he consults for over 15 national governments, including India, China, and Russia. Dr Khush is the author of three books, and more than 80 book chapters and 160 scientific papers.
Dr Khush has served as consultant to rice breeding programs of 15 countries as well as The Rockefeller Foundation, The Third World Academy of Sciences, Italy, and the International Science Foundation, Sweden. He is now serving as a member of Scientific Advisory Committee (overseas) to the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India.
In 1994, Dr Khush announced a new type of "super rice", which has the potential to increase yields by 25 percent. His final work on what is called the New Plant Type (NPT) for irrigated rice fields is complete. Developing NPT almost took 12 years and the plants were yielding strongly in temperature areas of China and are expected to be ready for farmers in tropical Asia very soon. It is a complete redesign of the rice plant from the roots up, making it higher yielding, more vigorous, and better able to resist pests and diseases without the use of environmentally damaging pesticides. It is designed to yield up to 12 tonnes per hectare in irrigated tropical conditions, but adjusting its genetic characteristics to match tastes and environment conditions.
Dr Khush shared the 1996 World Food Prize with his mentor, Dr Henry Beachell, for their unparalleled achievements in enlarging and improving the supply of rice, one of the world’s largest food crops. He has since played a key role in developing more than 300 rice varieties in IRRI's race to keep rice production ahead of population growth.
High yielding rice varieties with disease and insect resistance and superior grain quality developed under his leadership are grown on 60 per cent of the world’s riceland. At IRRI, he and his team developed several varieties like IR8, IR36, IR64 and IR72. It is IRRI’s improved rice varieties only, which has pushed the world rice production from 257 million tonnes in 1966 to over 700 million tonnes today and most of the major rice growing countries became self sufficient in food production. High yielding rice varieties with disease and insect resistance and superior grain quality developed under his leadership are grown on 60% of the world’s Riceland. All thanks goes to Dr Khush and IRRI.
Another significant contribution of Dr Khush is the training of numerous rice scientists from all over the world. His contributions to rice genetics and biotechnology are equally well recognized. In 2002, after 35 years of unprecedented service, he retired from IRRI and returned to University of California-Davis as an adjunct professor to share his knowledge and experience with students and faculty.
Dr Khush has worked closely with the Indian rice scientists and supplied numerous rice varieties which are grown widely in India. It is solely due to his untiring efforts, perseverance, scientific bent and visionary thought, which has ushered into a food self sufficient and food secure India and many other countries world over.