Inventor of the Year 2020
Zheng-Hua Ye, professor in the Department of Plant Biology, developed a trait that reduces lignin content in alfalfa without reducing the cultivar’s strength with funding from the Department of Energy. Lignin allows alfalfa to stand up vertically in the field, but it is not very digestible as forage. The new trait “rewires” how the plant produces lignin, resulting in strong but more digestible alfalfa. The trait was licensed by the University of Georgia Research Foundation (UGARF) to the Oklahoma-based Noble Research Institute, which commercialized it as HarvXtra® Alfalfa. Noble sublicensed the trait to Forage Genetics International, which sells the product, generating UGARF nearly $1 million in U.S. license revenue. HarvXtra® Alfalfa is the most advanced alfalfa trait on the market and the first genetically engineered trait developed to maximize quality by reducing lignin content. This is the first time UGARF has received a share of a genetic “trait fee” associated with an improved plant cultivar.