2020 NIHF Inductee Edward Sisler: The Ethylene Expert

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2020 NIHF Inductee Edward Sisler: The Ethylene Expert

A scientific researcher’s work involves a commitment to finding answers. For 2020 National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Inductee Edward Sisler, this kind of dedicated study earned him the nickname “The Father of 1-MCP.”

 

Devoted to Science

A native of Friendsville, Maryland, Sisler attended the University of Maryland for both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He went on to earn his doctorate in plant physiology from North Carolina State University (NCSU) where he worked as a biochemistry professor and researcher for many years.

It was at NCSU that Sisler met NIHF Inductee Sylvia Blankenship. Blankenship was a horticulturalist interested in the study of ethylene when she introduced herself to Sisler, who was also researching ethylene inhibition at the time. The two began working together on experiments and they eventually received a USDA grant to identify an ethylene receptor. Ethylene is a small, naturally occurring hydrocarbon gas that stimulates plant development and fruit ripening by docking in plant cell receptor sites. In order to stall these chemical processes, something else must take the place of ethylene in the receptor sites. Sisler and Blankenship found the answer in 1-methylcyclopropene (1-MCP), a compound that blocks ethylene perception in plant cells.

In their development of 1-MCP, Sisler and Blankenship offered one another their specialized knowledge. Sisler’s background in biochemistry enabled him to synthesize a cyclopropene ring after Blankenship used her skills with gas chromatograph to identify certain properties of these compounds. They were both proponents of using the library to research previous experiments done with ethylene, believing that older scientific literature was just as valuable as what could be found on the computer.

 

Supporting an Industry

Sisler and Blankenship’s discovery drastically changed the floral and fruit industries. 1-MCP was patented in 1996 and licensed by Floralife for floral crops. In 1999, AgroFresh was formed to commercialize 1-MCP for fruits and vegetables. Their product, SmartFresh, was approved by the Environmental Protection Agency for use in the United States and introduced in 2002. Today, SmartFresh is used on more than 30 crops, including 50 to 70% of the apples harvested in the United States. Licensing fees for 1-MCP have also brought in more than $25 million for NCSU, the highest royalty revenues in the school’s history.

Sisler’s breakthrough with 1-MCP earned him the second of his 10 U.S. patents. He shared his knowledge by contributing to several scientific publications and he was awarded the American Society of Florists’ Alex Laurie Award for floriculture research and education. Sisler was also a principal investigator for NC Project SEED from 2007 to 2009, a project that places talented disadvantaged North Carolina high school students in academic, industrial and government laboratories during the summer to experience hands-on research.

Sisler’s achievements are an example of how devotion to careful scientific study and collaboration with others can lead to new frontiers of discovery.

Along with his colleague Sylvia Blankenship, Edward Sisler will become one of our newest Inductees at the 48th Annual NIHF Induction Ceremony. Having passed away in 2016, he will be posthumously inducted. Look for more blogs introducing our inspiring 2020 Inductees at invent.org.

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