Meet the man with
an a-maize-ing mission.
Corn may reign as one of the most quintessential American foods, but before Professor Torbert, it wasn’t known for being especially nutritious. His work pioneering more nutrient-dense Orange Corn pairs old-fashioned, hands-on plant-breeding with modern science for a more well-fed world.
As a young man, Torbert Rocheford wanted to dedicate his life to making a positive impact on the world. Inspired by Norman Borlaug, the "Father of the Green Revolution," Torbert decided to pursue a career in plant breeding, recognizing its ability to create widespread impact.
Torbert earns his PhD in plant breeding, studying the traditional art of selecting desirable traits based on a plant's physical characteristics. Recognizing the future of technology in plant breeding, Torbert completes a postdoctoral research associate position in the rapidly evolving field of molecular genetics, developing the skills to be able to identify how specific genes affect certain traits.
Now a professor, Torbert begins working on increasing the nutritional value of corn. Torbert investigates how specific genes impact the production of micronutrients in the corn kernel, focusing on carotenoids, the same kind of natural antioxidant pigments that make carrots orange, some of which can provide the essential nutrient vitamin A.
As a leading expert in his field, Professor Torbert becomes a founding contributor to the international biofortification project called HarvestPlus. This organization seeks to eliminate severe micronutrient deficiencies globally by delivering more vitamin A, Iron, and Zinc through staple crops consumed in low-income countries.
2003 - 2008
Professor Torbert and a group of international scientists work on naturally selecting corn varieties with increased levels of beta-carotene (a precursor to vitamin A). These efforts aim to help alleviate vitamin A deficiencies in Sub-Saharan Africa, where corn consumption is widespread, and the health of millions is negatively impacted by inadequate vitamin A intake.
2008 - 2010
Professor Torbert and his collaborators make key gene discoveries, enabling the creation of corn varieties with unprecedented levels of the provitamin A carotenoid beta-carotene.
HarvestPlus introduces Orange Corn in a handful of African countries determined to convince small-hold farmers and consumers to switch over from white corn, which provides essentially no vitamin A or other health-benefiting carotenoids.
A number of African Dignitaries ask HarvestPlus, "If Orange Corn is so good, and you want us to eat it here, then why don't you eat it in the US?" Professor Torbert begins to think that perhaps he needs to do something about this...
Professor Torbert and his son Evan co-found NutraMaize, establishing the first significant biofortification effort in a high-income country. While Americans do not suffer from vitamin A deficiencies, most Americans consume suboptimal levels of the antioxidant carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are critical for maintaining eye health, and abundant in Orange Corn.
Recognizing Orange Corn's ability to make a positive impact in the US, the United States Department of Agriculture and the National Science Foundation award NutraMaize Small Business Innovation Research Grants, totaling over $1 million (as of 2020).
NutraMaize launches Professor Torbert's Orange Corn milled products to bring the benefits of Orange Corn to Americans.
Orange Corn is now grown in more than ten countries in Africa and consumed by many Americans who celebrate its exceptional quality.
Try it Out
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