Friday, February 20, 2009

Luther Burbank

Luther Burbank (1849-1926) was a botanist and horticulturist who developed over 800 strains and varieties of new plants, the most famous being the Russet Burbank potato, commonly called the Idaho potato.

Burbank only had a elementary school education, but was an avid reader. After reading Charles Darwin's The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, he began crossbreeding experiments on plants on a small farm in Massachusetts. Some of his more successful crossbreeds include the Fire Poppy, the Freestone peach, the Santa Rose plum, and the July Elberta peach.

The Burbank potato was developed in the early 1870s. Burbank sold the rights to the potato and traveled to his new home in California and continued to breed new variaties of plants.

The Russet Burbank potato was exported to help Ireland recover from the potato blight. His potato is also the sole source of potato in McDonald's french fries. Though many other horticulturists have tried to create an improved potato, Burbank's remains the most popular.

In 1921, Burbank wrote the book, How Plants Are Treated to Work for Man. This book as well as his other work are credited with helping in the creation of the Plant Patent Act in 1930. This act made new varieties of plants patentable for the first time. Burbank was issued 16 Plant Patents posthumously.

Burbank started a new trend of innovation in plant breeding. Today, horticulturists and bio-engineers continue working on developing new plant breeding.

MIT Inventor of the Week: Luther Burbank
Wikipedia: Luther Burbank

1 comment:

Sparrowhawk said...

Hummm. Sounds like Burbank was "playing god". This concept doesn't differ much from gene theory and cloning....where were all the nay sayers then?