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Nazareno Strampelli, the ‘Prophet’ of the green revolution

  • S. SALVI (a1), O. PORFIRI (a2) and S. CECCARELLI (a3)

23 January 2012 marked 70 years since the death of the Italian plant breeder Nazareno Strampelli (1866–1942), one of the most important plant geneticists of the 20th century. During the first 30 years of what is known as the ‘short century’, Strampelli was among the first, in Europe and in the world, to systematically apply Mendel's laws to plant breeding, particularly to wheat breeding which resulted in varieties characterized by rust resistance, early flowering and maturity and short straw. Due to Strampelli's varieties Italian wheat production doubled, an achievement that during the fascist regime was referred to as the ‘Wheat Battle’.

Some of Strampelli's wheats, such as Mentana, Ardito and San Pastore, were used as parents in the breeding programmes of several countries after the Second World War; they also had a key role in the first phase of Norman Borlaug's Green Revolution, being instrumental in the development of the high-yielding varieties of the future Nobel Peace Laureate.

A century after the key cross in which Strampelli, 30 years before Borlaug, used the genes for short straw and earliness in wheat breeding, his name and his work are not known and appreciated as they deserve, despite the recent evidence that the resistance to the new rust races could derive from the very same resistance genes identified by the Italian breeder at the beginning of the 20th century.

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