Johnie N. Jenkins, an internationally acclaimed scientist whose knowledge of the cotton plant’s natural ability to resist insects helped make Bt cotton a reality, has been inducted into the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s Science Hall of Fame.
Jenkins, a research plant geneticist and director of the Crop Science Research Laboratory at Mississippi State University, has been seeking ways to improve cotton yields through host plant resistance and improvement of cotton germplasm for 45 years.
He was one of the first scientists to test the efficacy of cotton genetically altered to contain a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt, a naturally occurring organism that can cause death in tobacco budworms, bollworms and other lepidopterous insects that feed on cotton.
One of the byproducts of his Bt cotton research was the development of the “boll box,” a device consisting of a series of compartments that allow scientists to measure the contribution of each fruiting position on the cotton plant to yield and lint values.
“Dr. Jenkins’ theories and techniques have resulted in pest-resistant cotton plants that are being used throughout the world,” said ARS Administrator Edward B. Knipling, USDA’s chief scientist.
“Dr. Jenkins was among the first scientists to field-test new transgenic cottons resistant to attack by tobacco budworm and cotton bollworms and has made important discoveries about previously unknown chemical interactions between cotton plants and pest attackers.”
He said Jenkins’ realization of interdisciplinary teamwork on host plant resistance brought great advances in the reduction of damage to cotton by insects such as the boll weevil, bollworm, tobacco budworm, tarnished plant bugs and the microscopic worms known as nematodes.
Knipling also commended Jenkins’ mentoring of young scientists, including more that 70 graduate students from a dozen countries who now train others and either serve as ARS scientists or work for some of the world’s leading cotton seed breeding companies.
The citation for Jenkins’ induction into the Science Hall of Fame reads, “For pioneering leadership, vision, innovative cotton host plant resistance research and technologies, impact on science, and the development and mentoring of young scientists.”
A native of Barton, Ark., Jenkins has conducted research on cotton fruiting and retention and developed the concept of dollar values for each fruiting site on the plant. His cotton dollar tree illustration, showing monetary values for each fruiting site, has been widely reprinted and used to improve cotton management and production.
He is a Fellow in the American Society of Agronomy, the Crop Science Society of America, and the American Association for Advancement of Science. He previously received the Crop Genetics Award in 1972, the Mobay Cotton Research Award in 1985, the ARS Outstanding Scientist Award in 1992, the USDA Superior Service Award in 1996, and the Verdant Partners International Crop Genetics Award in 2000.
“Dr. Jenkins epitomized the very best that ARS has to offer and has brought credit upon himself, his colleagues, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and in particular ARS and the Mid-South area,” said Knipling. “He has received the highest honor that ARS can bestow on one of its scientists.”
Jenkins joined ARS in 1961.
According to USDA officials, every member of the ARS Science Hall of Fame:
• Has produced a major impact on agriculture research — by solving a significant agricultural problem through research or providing outstanding leadership that significantly advanced agricultural research.
• Has made accomplishments that continue to be recognized by the agricultural research community.
• Possesses the character and record of achievement worthy of emulation by younger agricultural scientists
• Has made achievements that were nationally or internationally recognized by peers in the scientific community.