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Mary-Dell Chilton, Distinguished Science Fellow

Innovator in Modern Plant Biotechnology

Innovator in Modern Plant Biotechnology

With her groundbreaking contributions to biotechnology, Mary-Dell Chilton has made a lasting impact on global agriculture.


Mary-Dell Chilton, Ph.D., led a team of university researchers in producing the first transgenic plant. Her research laid the groundwork for significant contributions to plant biotechnology, ultimately resulting in the discovery of novel methods to improve a plant’s ability to control pests and manage extreme environmental conditions.

Contributions at Syngenta

Dr. Chilton began her corporate career in 1983 with CIBA-Geigy Corporation (a legacy company of Syngenta) and later founded its first biotechnology research lab. Under her leadership, Syngenta was the first company to commercialize a biotech trait in corn (Bt). Dr. Chilton retired in 2018, but her legacy of innovation will continue through the Syngenta Seeds’ R&D program.

Mary Dell-Chilton

Career Highlights and Awards

Dr. Chilton has been recognized for her extensive contributions to science. Notable awards include the World Food Prize in 2013 and the Benjamin Franklin Medal, joining an esteemed group of historical honorees including Thomas Edison, Pierre and Marie Curie, Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking. 

Additional Representative Awards Include:

  • National Academy of Sciences, 1985
  • Rank Prize in Nutrition (United Kingdom), 1986
  • David Gottlieb Medal, University of Illinois, 1986
  • Hendricks Medal, American Chemical Society, 1987
  • John Scott Award, City of Philadelphia, 2000
  • Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Sciences, Franklin Institute, Philadelphia, 2002
  • Washington University, St. Louis, Distinguished Professorship in Arts and Sciences, 2009
  • CSSA Presidential Award, Crop Science Society of America, 2011
  • Triangle Business Journal Lifetime Achievement Award, 2013
  • Order of the Long Leaf Pine Award, 2013
  • Raleigh News & Observer Tar Heel of the Year, 2013
  • USDA Hall of Heroes Inductee, 2015
  • National Inventors Hall of Fame, 2015
  • National Academy of Inventors Inductee, 2016
  • World Changer Award, Research Triangle Park Rotary Club, 2018

Dr. Chilton Thrive Features

Mary-Dell Chilton: The Queen of Agrobacterium:
Mary-Dell Chilton, Ph.D., has had a revolutionary impact on plant science. In 1977, when she...Learn More >>
Chilton Honored With World Food Prize:
Syngenta Biotechnology founder and Distinguished Science Fellow Mary-Dell Chilton, Ph.D.,...Learn More >>
USDA Honors Scientist:
Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently inducted Mary-Dell Chilton, Ph.D., a distinguished...Learn More >>

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