Writer: Kay Ledbetter, 806-677-5608, [email protected]
Contact: Dr. Bill Rooney, 979-845-2151, [email protected]

COLLEGE STATION – Dr. Bill Rooney, a Texas A&M AgriLife Research sorghum breeder in the Texas A&M department of soil and crop sciences in College Station, has been appointed as the first holder of the Borlaug-Monsanto Chair for Plant Breeding and International Crop Improvement.

Texas A&M and Monsanto created the chair in honor of Dr. Norman Borlaug, who won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in plant breeding. Funding for the chair comes from a generous endowment gift from Monsanto.

Dr. Bill Rooney
Dr. Bill Rooney

Dr. Alan Sams, executive associate dean of the Texas A&M University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in College Station, said the chair was established by Monsanto to create a legacy of Dr. Norman Borlaug’s lifetime work to eliminate hunger throughout the world. The endowed chair is to recognize a global leader in crop improvement and through that, to elevate Texas A&M’s role in leading the world, Sams said.

“Dr. Rooney has long been such a pre-eminent scientist, being recognized around the world for his pioneering work in plant breeding and genetics,” Sams said. “We are extremely proud of the contributions he has made and how this chair will increase his global visibility and impact, as well as that of all the Texas A&M crop improvement faculty.”

“I want to make sure Texas A&M is represented at events and opportunities that can extend our plant improvement programs and bring internationally known plant improvement experts to Texas to see A&M’s programs,” Rooney said. “I also want to make sure we are integrating phenomic and genomic technologies into our applied crop improvement programs using sorghum and other crops as examples.”

Rooney said there are other universities with strong international reputations for plant improvement; and Texas A&M should be among them.

“We have as good if not better programs, and this endowed chair allows us to make a better case when opportunities are presented,” he said.

“For instance, if you think about an applied wheat breeding program, Texas A&M is as good as anyone in the world,” Rooney said. “We have excelled in working for the producers at home; we have the people and expertise to extend this program internationally as well.”

Rooney himself has presented more than 30 times both nationally and in China, Australia, South Korea, Greece, India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, Ethiopia, Zambia and El Salvador.

Bill Rooney in greenhouse
Dr. Bill Rooney stands between johnsongrass and sorghum plants in the greenhouse where outcrossing research is being conducted. (Photo by Beth Ann Luedeker)

Rooney manages an active breeding program with locations throughout Texas, Puerto Rico, Brazil and Central America with research activities in grain, forage and bioenergy sorghum.

He interacts with other Texas A&M scientists in many affiliated disciplines such as molecular genetics, plant pathology, entomology and agronomy, as well as sorghum researchers nationally and internationally.

Leading the highlights of his program are the graduate students he trained who have gone on to productive careers in private industry and academia both nationally and internationally, Rooney said. The breeding program provides the basis for both genetic research and graduate student training.

As a professor, Rooney has focused on advising graduate students with an emphasis on plant breeding. Over his career, he has served as chair for 25 master’s degree students and as a committee member for an additional 13 master’s students. He has been the major adviser for 27 doctoral students and served on the committee of an additional 29 doctorate students.

Another career highlight, he said, is the development of specialty grain sorghums for the food market.

In addition to his crop improvement work for foods, Rooney also worked with Texas A&M geneticists to elucidate the genes underlying photosensitivity in sorghum to develop energy sorghum hybrids for the future bioenergy economy.

In the past, Rooney has been honored with the Texas A&M University Office of Technology Commercialization Innovation Award, as a Texas A&M AgriLife Research Faculty Fellow and was a Research Team Award recipient from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.