Hungry caterpillars can’t win against Warren’s discovery

PAT FRIDGEN
DR. GREG WARREN

Visiting Grandpa and Grandma, and a carton of spoiled milk. Two simple pieces of everyday life played a role in putting a scientist with Greencastle connections onto the front pages of agricultural industry publications. Greg Warren, now of Apex, N.C., found a chemical in 1993 that just went on the market. It acts as an insecticide to kill harmful caterpillars in corn, while not affecting beneficial species such as Monarch butterflies or moths. His discovery earned his employer, Syngenta Biotechnology, the 2010 Agrow Award for best biotechnology innovation, a huge honor in the agri-business field.

Warren, 52, grew up in Erie, but often visited his Greencastle grandparents, the late David and Thelma Warren. He developed an interest in bugs.

“It all started when I collected insects on Carlisle Street as a kid,” he said. “I spent much of my childhood there.”

Warren majored in biology at Bethany College in West Virginia, then earned a master’s degree in entomology at the University of Kentucky. He’s worked at Syngenta for over 20 years, and even took vacations. When the family returned from one, they found sour milk in the refrigerator, and Warren’s wife Sharyn wanted to throw it out. He decided to take it to the lab instead, curious to see what was growing in it.

“As it turns out, I found a protein that insects don’t like at all,” he said. “It keeps them from feeding on a corn plant if the corn produces it. When the insect bites it, it dies or walks away.”

The company perfected the genetics so that now corn can produce its own natural resistance. The typical bureaucracy needed to create a safe product just wrapped, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture gave the OK for the engineered seeds to be commercially marketed. The launch was in the United States and Brazil. Experts predict a profound impact for farmers.

“This will increase the yield of corn. The grower can plant and forget about it,” said Warren.

He was selected to travel to London to accept the Agrow Award, but is no longer quite a scientist. He entered law school at North Carolina Central University part-time in 2000, so that he could file patents on behalf of his employer. The degree came in 2007 and Warren is now Senior IP Counsel.

“I still use my science background, to protect our intellectual property.”

Warren gets back to Greencastle frequently. His parents are Wayne and Norma Jean Warren, 319 Ronald Drive. He and Sharyn have two children, Benjamin, 23, and Sara, 21, and a grandson, Cole.