World Food Prize Winner Mentored Iowa State Agronomy Professor

Kan Wang portrait
Kan Wang

AMES, Iowa — Iowa State University agronomy Professor Kan Wang has kept up a weekly correspondence with World Food Prize winner Marc Van Montagu since studying with him, leading to her doctorate in 1987.

“We’ve had an active exchange of what’s going on in the world,” she said.

Wang has marveled at the 80-year-old’s energy, despite heart surgery. Although Van Montagu has been retired many years, she said he has been active as the founder and chair of the Institute for Plant Biotechnology Outreach to train students in biotechnology.

“He’s always on the go, he’s unbelievable,” she said.

Van Montagu will share the 2013 World Food Prize with Mary-Dell Chilton and Robert Fraley for their discovery of a bacterium that introduced the opportunity of genetic modification.

Wang worked on a key element of the bacterium’s genetic makeup that allows it to change a plant’s genes. Her work was the basis of a paper in Cell, the prestigious biology journal.

In the meantime, her mentor became a life-long friend and colleague. She said he provided a welcoming environment in his lab at the University of Ghent in Belgium to her during her graduate study, a Chinese native with a poor grasp of the language at the time.

She said the six years studying with Van Montagu, and his colleague Jeff Schell, changed her life.

Wang joined Iowa State in 1995. She is a professor of agronomy and serves as director of the Center for Plant Transformation.

Van Montagu will be traveling to attend the World Food Prize celebration, set for Oct. 16 to 19. He’ll be arriving a couple days early to visit Wang.