Published on 12/23/14

Retired UGA plant breeder inducted into National Academy of Inventors

By Terry Hastings, Merritt Melancon

The National Academy of Inventors has inducted Michael Dirr, professor emeritus of horticulture in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, into the 2014 class of NAI Fellows.

Dirr, who is responsible for introducing 150 new plant varieties into landscapes around the world, is one of only two UGA faculty members to be inducted into the this year’s NAI class. He is the only plant breeder to be inducted into the NAI in the organization’s history.

“Michael Dirr’s contributions to the field of ornamental plant breeding helped to extend the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences’ legacy of innovation into the twenty-first century,” said Robert Shulstad, associate dean for research in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

“From hydrangeas and crepe myrtle trees that redefine the suburban landscape, to sorghum and wheat varieties that provide a drought-resistant source of nutrition for developing nations, horticulturist and crop breeders in our college influence communities around the world.”

Election to NAI Fellow status is a professional distinction accorded to academic inventors who have demonstrated a prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society. Worldwide, only 414 inventors have been inducted as NAI Fellows. They represent more than 150 research universities and governmental and nonprofit research institutions.

Last year’s NAI fellows class included Michael Doyle, Regents Professor of Food Microbiology and director of the Center for Food Safety in the CAES Department of Food Science and Technology.

Dirr’s innovative contributions to the horticulture industry are evident in virtually every wholesale nursery and garden center in the U.S., as well as nursery catalogs throughout the world. He is responsible for introducing more than 150 new plants into the horticulture trade, with approximately 50 of them receiving U.S. plant patents. His advancement of the genera of crape myrtle, viburnum, elm, oak, gardenia, loropetalum and distylium has improved these plants and made them more accessible to the gardening public.

His signature contribution is the development of hydrangea cultivars with the ability to bloom multiple times throughout the growing season. This trait, along with increased disease resistance, was fundamental to the surge of hydrangea sales in the U.S. Since the late 1980s, sales have quadrupled, with the vast majority of the increase coming since the release of Dirr’s first hydrangea cultivar.

In 2012, over half of all hydrangeas sold in the U.S. were attributable to Dirr’s cultivars.

“Dr. Dirr’s contributions to education, service and research distinguish him as a singular leader the horticulture industry looks up to for inspiration, innovation and guidance,” said Derek Eberhart, UGA’s director of technology commercialization. “His work over the last 40 years has yielded tremendous economic benefit and contributed to the ‘beauty of life’ across the United States and around the world.”

Dirr has received both the Garden Club of America’s Medal of Honor and the Scott Medal, given annually to an individual or organization that has made an outstanding national contribution to the science and the art of gardening. Dirr was named UGA Inventor of the Year in 2009.

This year UGA is also celebrating the selection of Robert Ivarie, emeritus professor of genetics, as an NAI fellow.

“The election of Dirr and Ivarie as NAI Fellows highlights the innovative research conducted at UGA,” said David Lee, UGA vice president for research. “We join NAI in celebrating their contributions to science and society.”

Ivarie’s research produced a portfolio of inventions to genetically engineer chickens as bioreactors for the efficient production of proteins for human therapeutic use. His inventions are now the basis for a platform technology covered by 19 issued U.S. patents and foreign counterparts, along with additional pending patent applications.

“Dr. Ivarie foresaw the advantages of producing therapeutic proteins in avian eggs and undertook the challenge of developing an entire suite of technologies needed for industrial-scale implementation,” Eberhart said.

In addition to his many patented inventions, Ivarie has a distinguished track record as a researcher and educator whose academic career spans nearly five decades. He served as chair of the UGA genetics department from 2004 to 2009.

For more information about academic inventors at UGA, visit the Office of the VicePresident for Research at For more information about the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences visit

Terry Hastings is the director of communications for the UGA Office of the Vice President for Research.

Merritt Melancon is a public relations manager with UGA's Terry College of Business and previously served as a public relations coordinator for the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and UGA Extension.

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