Dr. Akira Tanaka, the first physiologist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), passed away on 28 August in Japan. He arrived at IRRI on 1 April 1962 to head the fledgling institution’s Physiology Department. Japanese researchers, such as Tanaka, played a key role at IRRI as it set the stage for the start of the first Green Revolution
Robert Chandler, IRRI’s first director general, wrote about Tanaka in his book, An adventure in applied science: “Tanaka developed a first-class physiology program and brought to IRRI a wealth of Japanese knowledge and expertise, which were great advantages to the new institution.”
According to Dr. Peter Jennings, IRRI’s first rice breeder, who was a friend and colleague of Tanaka, he was, by far, the most experienced rice scientist at IRRI in those days. The photo shows Dr. Tanaka (left), conferring with Dr. Jennings during the early 1960s.
“Tanaka’s love was mineral nutrition, particularly, deficiencies, but his job at IRRI was really to take the tropical rice plant apart, analyze it—the stems, the leaves, the architecture," says Jennings.
“He had all this experience and his contribution to the development of IR8 was equivalent to that of a breeder. He helped to define the course, the way. Without Tanaka, I think, IRRI would have struggled longer in developing the first semidwarf rice variety. He lives in my mind as a superb scientist who had an immeasurable impact on the development of semidwarf rice varieties that revolutionized the world’s rice production.”
Later this year in November, IRRI will be observing the 50th anniversary of the release of IR8 and recognizing all the dedicated scientists who had a role in its development.
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