Hymowitz, Theodore (1934 -) | University of Illinois Archives

Name: Hymowitz, Theodore (1934 -)

Historical Note:

Theodore Hymowitz (1934-2022) was a professor in the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois from 1967-2004. He is internationally known for his research on soybean genetics, breeding, seed development, and history.

Theodore Hymowitz was born in New York City, on February 16, 1934, to Polish immigrants Ethel and Bernard Hymowitz. Hymowitz attended the orthodox Crown Heights Yeshiva day school and then the Boys High School in Brooklyn. In September 1951, he enrolled at Cornell University, where he completed his Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture in 1955. In 1957, Hymowitz completed his Master of Science degree in agricultural chemistry and soils at the University of Arizona. Shortly after graduation, Hymowitz was drafted into the U.S. Army. During his twenty-one month tour of duty, Hymowitz worked in a microbiology laboratory at the Quartermaster Research and Engineering Center in Natick, Massachusetts "studying the chemistry of compounds used to protect cotton fabrics from deteriorating in tropical climates." According to him, he received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army in January 1959 after being accepted to Oklahoma State University, where he earned his Ph.D. in agronomy in 1963. Upon graduation, Hymowitz moved to Brazil, where he worked as a researcher for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Sao Paulo, Brazil until late 1966. Hymowitz joined the University of Illinois's Department of Crop Sciences as an assistant professor in 1967 and as full professor from 1970 to 2004.

Professor Hymowitz is internationally recognized for his research on soybean genetics. However, much of Hymowitz's early research focused on the genetics of guar or cluster bean, a leguminous plant grown in India and Pakistan. In 1962, Hymowitz won a Fulbright scholarship to travel to India, where he conducted extensive research on guar. This research led him to develop the model of trans-domestication in which humans move a wild species from its place of origin to another region and subsequently domesticate it.

Hymowitz became interested in soybean genetics when working in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where he helped establish the Brazilian National Soybean Commission. He left Brazil in late 1966 and began working at Illinois in early 1967, where he continued his work in soybean genetics. In late 1967, he established the department's soybean genetics program. In the late 1970s, he was the first person to locate a soybean lacking the Kunitz tryspin inhibitor, an anti-nutritional component of soybean seed. This discovery eventually led to the development of the Kunitz soybean variety, which was released for commercial development in 1990. Hymowitz was also the first person to successfully produce a hybrid soybean plant by crossing the domestic soybean with a wild perennial species from Australia, Glycine tomentella. Hymowitz also helped assemble the USDA Soybean Germplasm Collection, which currently houses over 20,000 seed varieties. Professor Hymowitz also worked with a team of researchers to develop a soybean with reduced levels of proteins that cause allergenic and anti-nutritional effects. In addition, Hymowitz has published several papers on soybean history; for instance, C. Thornton and Hymowitz were able to document that soybeans were brought to Georgia, North America, in 1764.

Hymowitz retired from the University of Illinois in 2004. Theodore Hymowitz was married and had three daughters.


Theodore Hymowitz, "A Soybean Saga," Paul A. Funk Recognition Program, 1991.

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