“Intelligence is based on how efficient a species became at doing the things they need to survive.”
― Charles Darwin
At Monsanto, we admire and advocate innovation and progress, and in particular innovation and progress in science. Today, February 12th marks the birthday of Charles Darwin, father of rational thinking and author of arguably one of science’s most influential works, On the Origin of Species. Darwin dedicated his life to his studies of evolution, natural selection and anthropology, and is without question considered to have made one of the greatest contributions by an individual to the advancement of society. Yet in his lifetime, he was considered an intellectual heretic, and his theory of evolution dismissed as an improbability.
Parallels can be drawn between the 19th century reception of Darwin’s discoveries and some people’s attitudes towards the use of science across agriculture, medicine and technology today. Part of the human condition is a reticence towards change. But, as Darwin discovered, all living things evolve and adapt. We and all living species: the plant, animal and insect kingdoms- adapt because we need to survive. Crops have evolved over centuries to adapt to the changing climate in order to flourish and produce yields. (However, as we know, many crops can no longer adapt fast enough, you can read our blog on climate change here.)
Humans too have also played a role in their evolution, as we have sought to develop crops to provide better sustenance and meet our changing needs. One of the ways humans have always done this is through targeted breeding. For many years, scientists and botanists could not find a connection between maize and any other living plant. It wasn’t until another great scientist, George W. Beadle, in the 1930’s, discovered that maize is actually the domesticated form of the Mexican grass teosinte and was cultivated by agriculturists 9000 years ago. Beadle’s theory was also viewed with skepticism for 30 years, until genetics proved him right.
Today, we thank Charles Darwin and George Beadle for challenging the status quo. Instead of blind belief, they dared to delve deeper into what was believed to be truth and extricate facts. History has vindicated Charles Darwin and he is now considered one of the world’s most innovative scientists. An open mind is something that we should all strive to have. At Monsanto when we talk about innovation, we do not just mean progress that makes our lives easier; we are talking about progress that will help feed the world.
You can learn more about the life and works of Charles Darwin at:
The New York Times published a great read on George W. Beadle and the evolution of teosinte: