Earlier this week, Ethiopian Gebisa Ejeta joined an elite group of scientists when he was honored by US President Joe Biden in a ceremony at the White House. Ejeta, along with eight others, was awarded the National Medal of Science on Tuesday, the highest scientific honor in the nation.
Born and raised in rural west-central Ethiopia, Ejeta has dedicated his life’s work to food science – specifically the study of sorghum, a gluten-free ancient grain. He was a 2009 recipient of the World Food Prize for his work with drought- and parasite-resistant hybrid strains. That same year, he was awarded Ethiopia’s National Hero Award.
“Gebisa Ejeta is one of the most impactful geneticists in the world,” said Mung Chiang, president of Purdue University in the US, where Ejeta has been a researcher and faculty member since 1984.
“Our university celebrates another prestigious and richly deserved honor, bestowed by the president of the United States, to Gebisa,” he continued in a press release.
Roughly 500 million people in Africa and Asia rely on sorghum as a food source, and the grain is also widely used as livestock feed around the world, including in the US. Ejeta’s research focuses on some of the most “crucial traits” of the grain, according to Purdue, including “nutritional quality; drought and cold tolerance; and resistance to pests, diseases and Striga,” a harmful parasitic plant.
“By developing sorghum strains that withstand droughts and parasites, he has improved food security for millions,” President Biden said as he awarded Ejeta his medal at the ceremony. “His advocacy for science, policy, and institutions as key to economic development has lifted the fortunes of farmers and strengthened the souls of nations.”