Texas A&M AgriLife researcher Seth Murray
With the goal of honoring the nation’s foremost young scholars for the quality, impact and promise of their research, the New York Academy of Sciences has designated Texas A&M AgriLife researcher Seth Murray as finalist for the 2019 Blavatnik Award for Young Scientists. Winners are deemed Blavatnik Laureates and are announced in late June. Murray, associate professor and Eugene Butler Endowed Chair for Corn Breeding and Genetics in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at Texas A&M University, was among only 11 researchers named nationally as finalists in the category of life sciences.
“Dr. Seth Murray is following in the steps of Nobel Laureate and agronomist Norman Borlaug, and has the potential to begin the next ‘Green Revolution,’” said Dr. Brooke Grindlinger, chief scientific officer, Scientific Programs & Awards, at the New York Academy of Sciences. “Dr. Murray’s innovative techniques for breeding new strains of corn, creating mathematical models of plant traits and using drones to survey crops over time has resulted in his ability to identify the highest yielding corn plants. Such breakthrough research holds the potential to help feed the world in the face of dramatic climate change and rapid population growth.”
Blavatnik Awards are selected from three disciplinary categories of science and engineering with nominations by leading research universities, independent and government labs, academic medical centers and the Blavatnik Awards’ Scientific Advisory Council. Launched in 2007 by the Blavatnik Family Foundation, the awards were created with the New York Academy of Sciences to enhance research funding opportunities and emphasize the work of promising scientists under the age of 42.
“As one of a small handful of scholars in the nation to be named a Blavatnik Award finalist, Dr. Murray’s research was recognized for its quality, impact and innovation,” said Texas A&M Provost and Executive Vice President Carol A. Fierke. “We congratulate him for this recognition and celebrate the scientific contributions he is making to enhance the productivity, sustainability and quality of agricultural production.”
Murray researches large-scale problems in crop production through plant breeding and technology, including the use of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAVs), or drones, in agricultural decision making. He specializes in corn, or maize as it is known worldwide. This year he released five new corn hybrids bred for the longer growing season in the southern United States and multiple stresses, characterizing them as “foundational to our future inbred and hybrid production and breeding efforts.”
“Dr. Murray is leading the way in crop breeding and the use of advanced technologies that will allow growers to benefit from higher yields and increased stress resistance in corn,” said Dr. Patrick Stover, vice chancellor and dean of agriculture and life sciences at Texas A&M AgriLife and director of AgriLife Research. “His pursuit to contribute to a safer and more secure food supply for our nation epitomizes the spirit of a land-grant university.”
Murray, a world expert on crop field phenotyping—the study of a crop’s observable traits—co-led a project of 40-plus faculty across disciplines in developing procedures for scaling UAV technology for breeding and precision agriculture. This project led to his program’s focus on crop characteristics and use of high-throughput measurements to select the most promising varieties in a breeding program.
“I was especially surprised to be selected, because my research is fairly applied,” Murray said. “Plant breeders developing improved varieties for farmers are rarely recognized at this level of science. It is even more meaningful given the historical importance that public discoveries in agriculture have made to foundational sciences, such as genetics and statistics. I believe research in crop phenotyping will likely lead to a new wave of scientific contributions arising from agriculture; not to mention the success in helping farmers create a plentiful, safe and secure food supply.”
Murray’s research program focuses on both quantitative genetic discovery and applied corn breeding for Texas and the southern U.S. Breeding trait research in his program includes improved aflatoxin resistance, drought tolerance and nutrient-use efficiency. It also addresses incorporation of novel genetic diversity for perennial, blue and quality protein corn.
“Corn is a tremendously productive crop, and through scientific discoveries farmers have increased yields eight-fold over the last 100 years,” Murray said. “That means one-eighth of the land is needed to get the same production, freeing up land for recreation, urbanization, wildlife or simply producing additional crops needed to feed a growing population.”
View the full list of finalists for the national 2019 Blavatnik Awards Young for Young Scientists on the organization’s website.