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Gurdev Khush

University of California at Davis
Professor of Soil Science

Dr. Gurdev Khush is a world renowned geneticist and is considered one of the heroes of the Green Revolution for his leadership in developing rice strains that enhanced the quality and quantity of the rice supply in countries facing unprecedented population growth. He shared the 1996 World Food Prize with his mentor, Dr. Henry Beachell, for their unparalleled achievements in enlarging and improving the supply of rice, one of the world’s largest food crops.

The trail of Dr. Khush’s remarkable career began on a wheat farm in northern India, where his father instilled in him the value of education. After graduating from Punjab Agricultural University in 1955, he traveled to England and worked in a factory to save enough money for travel to the United States. In 1957, he applied to and was accepted by the University of California at Davis, where he studied with two legendary plant geneticists—Ledyard Stebbins and Charles Rick. After receiving his doctoral degree in 1960, he studied the tomato genome with Dr. Rick for seven years.

In 1967, IRRI recruited Dr. Khush to develop high-yielding rice varieties with short growth duration, resistance to diseases and insects, and superior grain quality. In less than five years, he became head of IRRI's plant breeding department and was well on his way to developing his own new varieties of "miracle rice" based on Dr. Beachell’s IR8. The resulting 300-plus improved varieties were distributed to rice-growing countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. World rice production increased from 257 million tons in 1966 to 686 million tons by 2010, a Green Revolution that feeds more than a billion people every year. One of these varieties, IR36, is the most widely planted food crop ever grown.

Dr. Khush retired from IRRI in 2002, and returned to UC-Davis as an adjunct professor to share his knowledge and experience with students and faculty. 

Dr. Khush has received honorary doctorates and degrees from twelve universities, including a 2000 doctorate from Cambridge university and a 2006 doctorate from Ohio State University. In 2007, Dr. Khush was awarded the Golden Sickle Award, honoring researchers who have made a considerable contribution or accomplishment in rice research. In addition, Dr. Khush received the Borlaug Award in 1977, the Japan Prize in 1987, the 2000 Wolf Prize in Agriculture, the 2001 International Scientific and Technological Cooperation Award from the Government of China, the Padma Shri award from president of India in 2001, and the Mahathir Science Award in 2009.

He has been elected to the US National Academy of Sciences, the Russian Academy of Agricultural Sciences and Chinese Academy of Science, the Royal Society of London, and he consults for over 15 national governments, including India, China, and Russia. Dr. Khush is the author of three books, and more than 80 book chapters and 160 scientific papers.

Dr. Ron Cantrell, former Director of the International Rice Research Institute, has said that “While Dr. Khush’s name has passed the lips of many, his life’s work has passed lips of almost half of humanity.” The 1987 World Food Prize Laureate M.S. Swaminathan has paid tribute to Dr. Khush, noting that “He combines remarkable capacities in both theoretical and practical work, and is a role model for all young scientists.”