Ending hunger, conserving the environment and advancing medicine were more important goals to Rutgers Professor Joachim Messing than earning lots of cash.
So when he discovered a way to crack the genetic code of humans and plants like rice, corn and wheat, Messing did not patent his work. Instead, he gave away the tools he invented – for free – to his fellow scientists around the world because he believed it was vital for future research. His decision enabled his colleagues to further decipher the genetic blueprint of living cells, which revolutionized medicine and agriculture.
“I thought it was important to be generous and make this freely available without restrictions so biotechnological innovations could move forward,” said Messing, the Selman A. Waksman Chair in Molecular Genetics at Rutgers.
The director of the Rutgers Waksman Institute of Microbiology has become famous for a genetic engineering technique used in laboratories to create plants that have produced disease-resistant crops considered crucial to feeding the world’s population and drugs like Erythropoietin (Epo) used to treat cancer patients.
Finding innovative methods to develop more nutritious crops that can be grown without additional irrigation and on the same amount of land as current crops has always been a priority for Messing, who came to Rutgers in 1985 to oversee research in the life sciences and at the Waksman Institute.
Messing has been honored for his contribution to humanity and received international recognition for his accomplishments in genetic engineering which enabled the deciphering of the genetic code of crop plants. In 2013, he was recognized by the Wolf Foundation of Israel when he won the Wolf Prize in Agriculture, which honors scientists and artists whose “achievements are in the interest of mankind and friendly relations among peoples.” Messing then gave the $50,000 prize to Rutgers as seed money for founding a new endowed chair at the Waksman Institute.
Considered to be one of the world’s top experts in molecular genetics, Messing is a member of the National Academy of Sciences of Germany and the United States, still teaches undergraduates and mentors students in his laboratory. Those who have worked with him say that Messing has a contagious enthusiasm that spreads throughout his laboratory and creates positive synergy among the team.