Donald MacKenzie,

PhD

Director, Institute for International Crop Improvement

A Happy Accident

Don MacKenzie has always been curious about the world around him, even though, during his early years, that world was often covered in snow.

He grew up in a town on the west coast of British Columbia called Kitimat. “It’s a Haida word meaning ‘valley of the snows,’” says Don. “We had 30 feet of snow a year.”

With a natural inclination toward math and science in school, Don studied biochemistry at the University of British Columbia, eventually completing a PhD. Don “accidentally” fell into the world of agricultural research when a friend encouraged him to apply for a position with Agriculture Canada.  He did, and he began studying plant viruses. “It was interesting because it was a new area for me,” he says. “As a young scientist, it seemed fairly exotic—and I realized the work could help a lot of people.”

Since 2018, Don has been the executive director of the Institute for International Crop Improvement (IICI) at the Danforth Center.

Feeding the World

Don’s group, the IICI, translates key discoveries in plant science into new solutions for food quality and availability in the developing world. The team provides regulatory, biosafety, and project management to help move improved crop varieties into the hands of farmers. “The number of people suffering from malnutrition has actually increased since 2015,” says Don. “There are more than 800 million people who go to bed hungry every day around the world. Our work is to improve crops and bring them to market to help people live better lives.

One of the achievements of which he is proudest of is the approval of pod-borer-resistant (PBR) cowpea by Nigeria. Cowpea, or black-eyed pea as we know it in the U.S., is the staple food of more than 200 million people in Africa, but it is susceptible to insect scourges that can destroy up to 80 percent of the crop. Thanks to regulatory support from the IICI, a new resistant variety is coming to market in 2020 to provide much-needed nutrition and nourishment to millions of people. “If we care about the wellbeing of people everywhere, then we need to care about this kind of work,” says Don.

Don is thankful for the Danforth Center, as it has provided him the freedom to explore the plant science goals he wants to achieve as well as a supportive, positive environment to do so.  “Danforth Center is a fantastic place, fantastic environment. Everybody working here is really keen and excited about what they’re doing,” he says. “There is a drive to go and make a difference."

About his work

"The IICI contributes to making the world a better place by working to get new crop varieties into the hands of farmers who need them most."

All in the family

His wife is the executive director of a nonprofit research foundation focused on environmental sustainability and agriculture.

About his work

"The IICI contributes to making the world a better place by working to get new crop varieties into the hands of farmers who need them most."

All in the family

His wife is the executive director of a nonprofit research foundation focused on environmental sustainability and agriculture.

Get in touch with Donald MacKenzie

Research Team
Research Summary

Dr. MacKenzie leads the Institute for International Crop Improvement (IICI), which translates key discoveries in plant science into new solutions for food quality and availability in the developing world. The IICI also provides regulatory, biosafety, and project management expertise.

Donald MacKenzie

Executive Director, International Programs

Dana Benedicktus

Grants Specialist

Getu Duguma

Senior Manager Regulatory Science

Rudi Trijatmiko

Donald MacKenzie

Executive Director, International Programs

Dana Benedicktus

Grants Specialist

Getu Duguma

Senior Manager Regulatory Science

Rudi Trijatmiko

Donald MacKenzie, PhD is the Executive Director of the Institute for International Crop Improvement (IICI).  He manages the IICI’s programs and partnerships dedicated to translating key discoveries in plant health, disease and pest management, genomics, advanced breeding and nutrition to staple crops that impact food security around the globe.  Don also provides guidance on navigating through the practical, safety and regulatory processes necessary to demonstrate that new crop varieties are proven safe and effective for the farmers who will benefit from them.

Don is an international expert in regulatory systems for agriculture, including environmental risk assessment, biosafety and food safety assessments.  His extensive experience in plant product development and global regulatory processes aligns with the Institute’s commitment to collaborate with international and local partner organizations to deliver crops with improved nutritional content and disease resistance to places where people are in most need.  In addition to feeding the hungry, these efforts have the potential to contribute to environmental health and empower farmers to become more self-sufficient.

Under Don’s leadership, the IICI is establishing a public-private collaboratory to address cross-cutting issues related to environmental and food safety assessment, quality standards, consensus-building, regulatory policy advocacy, and the practical implementation of stewardship best practices for new technologies.