Photo of John E. Franz

John E. Franz

  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • Agriculture

For his discovery of the herbicidal properties of glyphosates which have had significant consequences upon the production of agricultural food and fiber as well as upon agricultural practices throughout the world.

From the age of 10, John E. Franz knew he wanted to become a scientist. He went on to complete a Ph.D. in organic chemistry at the University of Minnesota, and took a job at Monsanto Company where he would spend his entire career.

Researchers at Monsanto Company had been searching for an herbicide that was effective against annual and perennial weeds for nine years but had little success. In 1970, Franz and his team discovered glyphosate, eventually marketed as Roundup. The herbicide is highly effective against both annual and perennial weeds, but essentially nontoxic to mammals, birds, fish, insects, and most bacteria.

Franz’s invaluable breakthrough spurred Monsanto to design and produce plants genetically immune to glyphosates, which allows farmers to use the herbicide without damage to their crops. It’s satisfying to know that he’s played a major role in developing “an environmentally friendly product that’s beneficial to mankind,” Franz said in an interview. Glyphosate continues to be among the most widely used herbicide in the world.

By Jen Santisi