Paving the Way for Future Technologies: David Fischhoff Leads the Transformation in Agriculture

W. Sparks-Vredenburgh  

David Fischhoff, Ph. D., was recruited by Monsanto Company in the summer of 1983 to put his reputation as an innovative molecular biologist to work in the emerging field of biotechnology. His breakthroughs include the development of insect-resistant crops and the development and application of genomic technologies that set the stage for a new wave of future agricultural biotech products.

David Fischhoff grew up in Detroit, Mich., and from elementary school, he was interested in the sciences.  By high school, he was certain he’d go to college and continue to study them.   

Whlle completing his undergraduate work at MIT, Fischhoff found his niche: biology. “Due to its hands-on and experimental nature, you could literally see the results within a day or two,” he said. “They were instantaneous and real-time. It was amazing.”

From MIT, Fischhoff went on to graduate school at the The Rockefeller University. There, he studied molecular biology, specifically genetics in the bacteria, E.coli, one of the key model systems scientists study to understand genetics.

In the early 1980s, Fischhoff moved to St. Louis as a post-doctoral fellow at Washington University in St. Louis. There, through a set of connections, he became familiar with Monsanto. At this time, Monsanto was just beginning to focus on biotechnology and agriculture.

“Most of biotech was focused on pharmaceuticals, and Monsanto was unique due to its focus in agriculture,” he said. “It was attractive, in large part, because it seemed like a great opportunity. The possibilities were very exciting.” 

Looking back, Fischhoff remembers the early 80s as the first wave of biotechnology.

“There was so much to imagine with the future. There was so much opportunity available within Monsanto and within plant biotechnology. It was an open frontier.”

Career Beginnings

Recruited by Monsanto in the summer of 1983, Fischhoff first began working with colleague and fellow research biologist, Fred Perlak, on developing insect-resistant biotech plants. The first task was to engineer the gene for an insecticidal protein from Bacillus thuringiensis, or the Bt gene into plants, to see if insects would be impacted. 

During this time, Fischhoff joined American Farm Bureau Federation’s “Adopt a Scientist” program. He spent a few days every couple of months with a Texas cotton grower for an entire growing season. The time spent in the fields with the grower was hugely valuable for his research and understanding of the challenges farmers face each growing season.

This experience from the field, coupled with knowledge from school and laboratories, allowed Fischhoff and Perlak to go on to invent insect-protected, or Bollgard®, cotton, using breakthrough methods in biotechnology.

Proudest Moment

When Fischhoff looks back on his career, he is most proud of the development of insect-resistant crops. 

“Prior to Bollgard® technology, cotton plants in the Delta were sprayed as much as 6-8 times a year to control Lepitopdera and other insects. They were spending great amounts of money to provide insect control.  There was a lot of concern with the environmental impact of so many chemicals. We knew the tools were available to provide a replacement, but it was a matter of showing the technology worked in the field.”

Fischhoff worked on this product from 1983 to 1996.

“To see the plants out in the field in the early field testing phases to the commercial launch was just amazing. The differences were clear-cut, and the visual impact was incredible.”

By 1996, Monsanto commercialized insect-resistant Bollgard cotton varieties in the U.S. Since then, the product has brought many benefits to farmers around the world, including environmental benefits and cost savings from reduced pesticide use. It also paved the way for future insect-protected technologies, such as YieldGard® Corn Borer insect-protected corn and the second-generation cotton technology, Genuity® Bollgard II® cotton.

Forecast for the Future

Today, Fischhoff is the vice president of technology strategy & development in Monsanto’s technology division. Here, he is the driving force behind the implementation of new technologies at Monsanto.

To Fischhoff, the future is bright. 

“I cannot imagine working with plants or technologies at any other company than Monsanto. From the time I joined Monsanto, there has been an effort to be the leader in agricultural biotech, and we’ve only scratched the surface. There is so much potential and positive change that we can make. Our technologies have had, and can continue to have, a major impact around the world.

“We have a world class-scientific staff, and there is more to come.”

Monsanto Company is a member of Excellence Through Stewardship® (ETS). Monsanto products are commercialized in accordance with ETS Product Launch Stewardship Guidance, and in compliance with Monsanto’s Policy for Commercialization of Biotechnology-Derived Plant Products in Commodity Crops. This product has been approved for import into key export markets with functioning regulatory systems. Any crop or material produced from this product can only be exported to, or used, processed or sold in countries where all necessary regulatory approvals have been granted. It is a violation of national and international law to move material containing biotech traits across boundaries into nations where import is not permitted. Growers should talk to their grain handler or product purchaser to confirm their buying position for this product. Excellence Through Stewardship® is a registered trademark of Biotechnology Industry Organization.
B.t. products may not yet be registered in all states. Check with your Monsanto representative for the registration status in your state.

ALWAYS READ AND FOLLOW PESTICIDE LABEL DIRECTIONS. Bollgard II®, Bollgard®, Genuity and Design®, Genuity Icons, Genuity®, Monsanto imagine® and Vine Design®, and Respect the Refuge and Cotton Design® are trademarks of Monsanto Technology LLC. ©2011 Monsanto Company.