Sylvia Blankenship and Edward Sisler's development of 1-MCP led to its use in ripening technology for apples and other fresh produce. ( Courtesy National Inventors Hall of Fames )

The inventors of a compound that revolutionized fruit and vegetable storage, allowing apples to maintain crispness months after harvest, are among the 2020 inductees into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Sylvia Blankenship, the emerita senior associate dean of administration at North Carolina State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and Edward Sisler, who died in February 2016, invented 1-MCP, which was introduced commercially in 2002.

Sisler was a biochemist at NCSU studying ethylene physiology before collaborating with Blankenship, a horticulturalist at the university, in the 1980s, according to biographies from the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

They identified 1-methylcycloprone (1-MCP), a compound that inhibits the natural ethylene that stimulates fruit ripening. 

The compound was patented in 1996, and AgroFresh was formed to commercialize 1-MCP for the produce industry. That company’s product, SmartFresh, was approved by the Environmental Agency and released in 2002, according to the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

SmartFresh is used on more than 30 crops, including half to 70% of U.S. apples, and licensing fees have earned the university more than $25 million, the highest royalty revenues in its history, according to the hall of fame.

Blankenship stresses the importance of collaboration, such as the work she did with Sisler.

“If somebody has a little bit different expertise, you need to learn how you can benefit each other,” she said, according to the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Another agriculture-related inventor, Frank Zybach, who invented center-pivot irrigation technology, is being inducted posthumously.

The 22 inductees were announced at the annual CES consumer electronics show in Las Vegas on Jan. 8. They will be honored at events May 6-7 in Washington D.C., including the induction ceremony.

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