Luis Herrera-Estrella

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Luis Herrera-Estrella is a molecular biologist who works on genetic engineering. His lab "aims to understand how plants modify the architecture of their roots to improve their ability to obtain nutrients from the soil."[1]

"Dr. Herrera-Estrella is chief of the National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity, Center for Research and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute, Irapuato, Mexico. He received a Ph.D. in plant molecular biology from the State University of Ghent, Belgium, where he also conducted postgraduate research... In 2003 he was elected to the Mexican Academy of Sciences and, as a foreign associate, to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences."[1]

Herrera-Estrella completed his Bachelor of Sciences in biochemical engineering from the Mexican National Polytechnic Institute. He received his Masters degree from IPN's Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados.[2]

Honors and Awards

Herrera-Estrella has received the following honors:[1]

Herrera-Estrella Helps Sell Monsanto on Humanitarian Work

"The fate of the world's poorest farmers certainly did not weigh heavily on the minds of Monsanto's executives as they dove into biotechnology during the 1980s. Outsiders brought those concerns to the company's front door. Three names stand out: Gary Toenniessen, Luis Herrera-Estrella, and Clive James."[3]

Toenniessen worked for the Rockefeller Foundation, Herrera-Estrella was a researcher at the University of Ghent who had "been among the pioneers in the genetic manipulation of plants," and James was the former deputy director of the Center for the Improvement of Wheat and Maize (CIMMYT) who went on to lead the ISAAA.[4] At the Rockefeller Foundation, Toenniessen began funding a research program on rice in 1984, just a year after the first genetically engineered plants were created. James played the role of "[trying] to enlist companies as allies... persuading them to donate their tools and expertise to researchers working on crops grown by the poor."[5]

In 1990, James visited Toenniessen "and came away with the promise of funding" for a project "that would match the desires of a developing country with the capabilities of the biotech industry."[5] On Toenniessen's recommendation, James got in touch with Herrera-Estrella, who had returned to Mexico. Herrera-Estrella proposed working on virus-resistant potatoes. Typically, farmers must purchase certified seed potatoes if they want to ensure their potatoes are free of disease. For a farmer who cannot afford to purchase seed potatoes, Herrera-Estrella felt that genetically engineered virus resistant potatoes would solve the problem.

"Herrera-Estrella pointed out that it would be a simple matter to ensure that their project would never take any sales away from Monsanto. The Mexican researchers could apply the technique only to traditional varieties of potatoes grown by small-scale subsistence farmers."[5]

In 1990, Herrera-Estrella and James met with Monsanto's Earnest Jaworski ("the godfather of plant biotechnology himself"), who was supportive of the project.[6] In addition to the clear humanitarian goals of the project, there was another benefit for Monsanto:

"As part of the project, the Rockefeller Foundation would fund efforts to set up regulatory institutions in Mexico to handle genetically engineered crops. The potato might thus smooth a path for other, more commercially valuable products emerging from Monsanto's laboratories."[6]

While Jaworski's interest in humanitarian concerns is likely genuine, Herrera Estrella also notes the project's public relations value for Monsanto. "The interest of Monsanto was, they were always claiming that genetic engineering would help solve the food problems of the world. This was a very good opportunity for them to show that this technology could indeed help a developing country.[6] For more information, see the article on Monsanto's Use of Humanitarian Projects to Open Global Markets to GMOs.

Articles and Resources

Related SourceWatch Articles


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Herrera-Estrella bio, Accessed March 8, 2012.
  2. Estrella, Accessed March 8, 2012.
  3. Daniel Charles, Lords of the harvest: biotech, big money, and the future of food, p. 264.
  4. Daniel Charles, Lords of the harvest: biotech, big money, and the future of food, p. 265.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Daniel Charles, Lords of the harvest: biotech, big money, and the future of food, p. 266.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Daniel Charles, Lords of the harvest: biotech, big money, and the future of food, p. 267.

External Resources

External Articles