Dr. Ray Shillito
2023 SIVB Lifetime Achievement Award
Click here to read highlights of Dr. Shillito’s acceptance speech
It was my great pleasure, along with Laura Privalle, to nominate Dr. Ray Shilitto for the SIVB Lifetime Achievement Award. It was an even greater pleasure to present Ray with the Award at the 2023 meeting in Norfolk where he was also an invited speaker for the Michael Horne Plenary Symposium.
Ray’s accomplishments are so large in scope as to defy summary. Ray is responsible for fundamental in vitro research in plant transformation and especially in plant protoplast. Before Ray’s work, totipotent, plant protoplasts were known for few species and few could coax them into surviving more than a few days, let alone divide and differentiate into fully fertile plants. Ray was able to develop protoplast systems for monocot plants – unheard of at the time. Further, Ray was already experimenting on how to utilize such protoplasts to bring novel traits to the market. While such work is seen as routine for some plants today, at the time, this work was not only non-routine, but was even considered as non-obtainable. Ray was in labs and contributed to work that established not only protoplasts as a system for the plant biotechnology era, but also biolistic gene delivery methods and Agrobacterium-mediated gene delivery methods. Ray was a driver in the production of the first commercial maize event to the market. One of these events – BT11 – is still on the market. Ray has been credited with numerous, high profile publications and patents for his contributions. Related to this year’s Michael Horne Symposium, part of Ray’s early work on protoplasts was done with Mike resulting in a foundational patent.
Ray’s career shifted somewhat away from fundamental tissue culture and transformation and instead started to focus more on how one brings products of plant tissue culture and transformation to the market – the real beginning of today’s Agricultural Biotechnology. The plant section specifically recognizes the full need to bring products of plant tissue culture and transformation to market and is hence named the Plant Biotechnology Section. In this area, Ray has continued to have a very large impact not only in direct publications and patents, but also in helping to establish clear guidelines and standards for bringing bioengineered crops to the market. Ray has been involved in bringing important traits to the market such as insect resistant and herbicide resistant plants. He has been at the forefront in establishing clear stewardship and regulatory guidelines. He is a member of multiple professional societies such as ISTA, Crop Life, IFBiC, AADDCI, AEIC, ISO and CCMAS as well as SIVB. Ray is also a critical reviewer for prestigious journals including Nature Bio/Tech, Plant Molecular Biology, PNAS, Plant Physiology and In Vitro – Plant. Ray has been a driver for establishing clear guidelines for regulating and detection of plants developed through new gene editing approaches and is often sought out for his deep knowledge in this field.
Ray has served SIVB as vice president and member of the board. He is also a recipient of the Fellow award. He has been on the program committee for many years and organizer for multiple symposia. Ray has also been a frequently invited speaker for SIVB. I first met Ray at an SIVB meeting in the mid 1990’s!
Ray is a role model as a communicator not only within science, but also to the public. He is extremely active on social media and also in mentoring others in communication. He has been a team leader, mentor and guide for many of us in the plant biotechnology community. Ray has recently retired but is a continuous contributor through consulting as well as through active engagement in social media especially LinkedIn.
Ray is one of the people I have looked to for career guidance and for mentoring. He has been a constant inspiration to me. I have been so fortunate to interact with Ray. He is one of the “Giants” in the AgBiotech field and a pioneer for bringing valuable tools forward for better, more sustainable agriculture. He along with other pioneers – like Mary-Dell Chilton – has been a guiding light for my life and career.
Allan Wenck and Laura Privalle