Dennis' Open Road

  • INTERVIEWED BY:

    Hawaii Roadtrip

DENNIS GONSALVES

Professor Emeritus of Plant Pathology
Cornell University

“Don't just be a test tube scientist—if you have the opportunity, do something to help people.”

INTERESTS:

Science Environment & Nature

THEMES DISCUSSED:

Community Hard Work Success Character Opportunity Fulfillment Support & Encouragement Chance Values Perseverance Struggle

FOUNDATION:

Helping People

BIOGRAPHY:

  • After earning his bachelor’s degree in horticulture from the University of Hawaii, he originally just wanted to find a job.
  • He was hired as a technician on Kauaʻi, and his boss showed him a virus he suspected was developing on the papaya plants.
  • With no preparation—aside from one plant pathology class he’d taken in college—he was tasked with identifying the virus.
  • He checked out books on plant pathology and spent nine months studying the virus; during that time, he got hooked.
  • He decided curing this virus would become his life’s work; he went back to school to earn his Ph.D. in plant pathology.
  • As he further researched the virus, it started rapidly spreading and threatening the livelihood of Hawaii’s papaya farmers.
  • Eventually, he genetically engineered the "Rainbow" papaya to be resistant to this devastating papaya ringspot virus.
  • Rainbow papayas now make up over 75 percent of Hawaii's papayas; he’s largely credited with saving the industry in the state.

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