by the International Society for Plant Molecular Biology
2005 Kumho Award
Steven D. Tanksley, Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor of Plant Breeding in Cornell University is the winner of
the 2005 Kumho Award in Plant Molecular Biology and Biotechnology. Prof Tanksley is a pioneer of genome
mapping, comparative genomics and marker assisted breeding of crop plants. He has made a series of key
discoveries with implications for the understanding of genomes and crop plant improvement. The award of
$30,000 is administered by the International Society of Plant Molecular Biology and sponsored by the Kumho
Cultural Foundation in Korea.
Tanksley has pioneered molecular mapping of plant genomes. He produced the ﬁrst molecular maps of
tomato, potato and rice genomes and, using these, has developed novel approaches in marker-assisted plant
breeding and comparative genomics. The molecular maps also allowed the characterisation of genetic loci
at the molecular level without having any prior information about the protein product. The impact of this
development cannot be overstated – it means that the power of molecular genetics can be directed at crop
plants and is not restricted to model species. Tanksley’s cloning of the Pto tomato locus illustrates this
point. It was one of the ﬁrst disease resistance genes to be characterised from plants and its kinase protein
product is a paradigm for molecular recognition and signal transduction in disease resistance. More
recently Tanksley has exploited genome maps for the molecular characterisation of complex genetic traits,
including those in which the locus has a quantitative eﬀect on the plant.
Molecular maps allowed Tanksley to compare genomes and discover that there is extensive conservation
of gene sequences and gene order even in distantly related plants. This genome co-linearity reveals that
genome evolution involves rearrangements of large blocks of genes. It also has practical implications
because orphan crops can now be characterised by reference to related major crops with extensively
One of Tanksley’s most spectacular discoveries is that wild rice and tomato species have an unexpected
wealth of genes. Undomesticated tomato relatives with small green fruit, for example, have genes that can
increase the size or the red pigment of fruit in domesticated tomato. Similarly, wild rice relatives have genes
that improve yield in cultivated rice. This discovery will revolutionize the way that plant germplasm can be
exploited for crop improvement. It will also help our eventual understanding of complex regulatory systems
aﬀecting genomes and genome expression.
Tanksley’s work is also a foundation for many other discoveries and developments in plant molecular
biology and crop plant breeding. In addition, his ﬁndings have the potential to address the problems of crop
production in both the developed and the developing world. He is congratulated on this award.
Plant Molecular Biology 56: v, 2004.