Memoir

John D. Axtell

Purdue University

February 5, 1934 - December 2, 2000


Election Year: 1982
Scientific Discipline: Plant, Soil, and Microbial Sciences
Membership Type: Member

John David Axtell was widely recognized for his research on sorghum—in particular the plant’s grain and forage quality and the genetic improvement of its germplasm. Recognizing the importance of increasing the content of the essential amino acid, lysine, in grain sorghum and the consequent improvement in the diets of humans and livestock that consumed it as a food staple, he pioneered a successful research program that identified natural and induced high-lysine mutants in grain sorghums. Axtell also established that different methods of food preparation had varying effects on the digestibility of sorghum proteins; this research ultimately led to the discovery and development of new, unique, and highly digestible strains of sorghum.

Axtell earned a BS in agronomy and plant genetics in 1957 and an MS in plant genetics in 1965 from the University of Minnesota. In 1967, he received his PhD degree in plant genetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and became an assistant professor in the Department of Agronomy at Purdue University. Axtell spent the rest of his career at Purdue, becoming a full professor in 1975 and the Lynn Distinguished Professor of Agronomy in 1982. Over his nearly 34 years at the university, varieties of sorghum that he and his Purdue colleagues had developed were widely distributed to national research programs and international research centers. In addition to doing important research, Axtell was considered a very effective teacher in the classroom and enjoyed working with graduate students, many of whom went on to research and development positions in universities, the seed industry, national research programs in developing countries, and international centers. Axtell himself worked closely with the peoples of Africa to improve sorghum quality and production and was an active participant in the activities of the International Sorghum and Millet Consortium (INTSORMIL) and of numerous other international research programs.

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