January 2018

Evangelina Villegas (1924 – 2017)

Dr. Evangelina Villegas was a Mexican biochemist whose research led to the development of quality protein maize. She and her colleague, Dr. Surinder Vasal, received the 2000 World Food Prize for the impact of their work on improving productivity and nutrition in malnourished and poverty-stricken areas.
Born in 1924 in Mexico City, Villegas earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry and biology at the National Polytechnic Institute. She began her career as a research chemist in 1950 at Mexico’s National Institute of Nutrition and at the Special Studies Office, that would later become the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). She left for a brief period to earn a Master of Science degree in cereal technology from Kansas State University and a doctoral degree in cereal chemistry and breeding from North Dakota State University, in 1967.
While in charge of the lab investigating protein quality, she partnered with Surinder Vasal, a CIMMYT maize breeder, to develop a variety of maize with higher levels of lysine and tryptophan, two key amino acids. Their many years of research culminated in the creation of quality protein maize, which featured enhanced levels of both amino acids, while maintaining the texture and flavour of conventional maize. Quality protein maize has consistently shown to be particularly effective in improving the nutritional status of young children.
Villegas was the first woman ever to receive the World Food Prize and was named “Woman of the year” in Mexico in 2000 for her accomplishments. She passed away in April of 2017.

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