Ralph Riley

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Biographical Information

RALPH RILEY (died in 1999) "was a leading figure in crop genetics and biotechnology, a champion of UK science, and an advocate of technology transfer and uptake by developing countries...He entered Sheffield University in 1947 and, after his undergraduate degree in Botany, studied for a PhD with John Thoday who whetted the young Ralph's interest in genetics. He was only two years into his PhD when he was recruited by Douglas Bell, then the Director of the Plant Breeding Institute at Cambridge, to study the introduction of useful variation into the wheat crop from its wild relatives, and to take wheat breeding on to the next step. Two years later in 1954 Riley became the founder and first Head of the Cytogenetics Department at the PBI...

"In 1978 Ralph Riley left a much- expanded PBI to become Secretary (chief executive) of the Agriculture and Food Research Council (now the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council). As Secretary, under a very difficult financial regime, he provided yet further stimulus for the development of biotechnology in UK universities and institutes. Although Riley oversaw the closure of several institutes, he was adamant that traditional research with the potential to bring new understanding or to lead to new technologies was retained. He was knighted for his services to science in 1984.

"After his official retirement from UK agricultural research Riley had more time to devote to overseas agricultures. Although he considered it unwise precipitously to include the new science in the programmes of the international agricultural research institutes, he considered it his duty to ensure that the institutes were aware of the opportunities on offer. While pursuing this aim, Riley sat on the board of trustees of the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines. In 1993, after a period on the board of the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas, he became a member of the Technical Advisory Committee to the Consultative Group on International Research, where he could have most impact. He also became Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee for the remarkably successful Rockefeller Foundation's Rice Biotechnology Program.

"His interest in development was also exemplified by his leading a Food and Agriculture Organisation/UN Development Programme team to increase grain production in Bangladesh in 1989. His great interest in international agriculture continued undiminished until his death.... Ralph Riley, plant geneticist: born Scarborough, Yorkshire 23 October 1924; research worker, Plant Breeding Institute, Cambridge 1952-78, Head of Cytogenetics Department 1954-72, Director 1971-78; FRS 1967; Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge 1967-92 (Emeritus); Special Professor of Botany, Nottingham University 1970-78; Secretary, Agriculture and Food Research Council 1978-85, Deputy Chairman 1983-85; Kt 1984; married 1949 Joan Norrington (two daughters); died Cambridge 27 August 1999." [1]

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  1. independent.co.uk Obituary: Sir Ralph Riley, organizational web page, accessed March 25, 2012.