International Center for the Improvement of Wheat and Maize (CIMMYT)
Creativity is the creation of an idea or object that is both novel and useful. In science as in art, creativity is at the basis of several innovative theories or discoveries which often result from the blending of different disciplines and from questioning the norms. In this presentation I would like to discuss the importance of creative thinking to advance science and innovation taking inspiration from Dr. Craig Morris’ s life and work.
Craig was the Director of the USDA-ARS Western Wheat Quality Lab since 1989. During his career Craig played a central role in the advancement of many areas of cereal chemistry. Among his different studies, probably the most recognized was the work he and his team conducted on wheat grain hardness which led to the discovery of the genetics at the basis of this important trait. Thanks to his wide knowledge of this trait and his ability to think outside the box, he later applied his basic discoveries on grain hardness for the creation of the “soft durum” wheat, which is a new type of durum wheat with a softer kernel that allows for new and unique utilization of this crop. But this is just one of the areas on which Craig worked during his career. He conducted several studies on other aspects that directly influence wheat end-use quality such as the role of enzymes like the polyphenol oxidase on the discoloration of wheat food products, and the role of non-starch carbohydrates on hard and soft wheat product quality. His different project ideas not only derived from his great knowledge of cereal chemistry, but also from the connection and conversations he had with other scientists in his same areas, farmers, millers, bakers, scientists from other disciplines, and students. It was also thanks to these conversations that he started to work on the genetics of wheat flavor using a unique model system involving the laboratory mouse which allowed for a relatively easy and definitely alternative way of phenotyping wheat flavor preference.
While Craig is greatly missed by the overall cereal chemistry and wheat science communities, he was a real example of how important creativity (supported by knowledge, open-mind, and dialogue) is for scientific.