When 76-year-old agricultural scientist Li Zhensheng decided to study wheat more than five decades ago, he did not expect it to be his life-long pursuit.
Li was presented with the 2006 National Supreme Scientific and Technological Award by President Hu Jintao for his achievements in wheat studies, which have helped feed millions of people.
Li, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), is the 10th Chinese scientist to win the top award 5 million yuan ($649,350) since it was established in 1999.
"But this award should not be given to me alone. It is an honour to be shared by a group of scientists who have worked to improve food safety for so many years," Li told China Daily.
Born in 1931 in East China's Shandong Province, Li is a CAS academician and a former vice-president of CAS.
After graduating from Shandong Agricultural University in 1951, Li faced a major challenge massive wheat strip rust disease caused by a fungus infection in northern China.
Called wheat cancer, the disease has a high infection rate and it could reduce wheat output by half. All types of fungicides were used but to no avail because of the rapid genetic mutation of the fungus.
After years of work in Northwest China, Li discovered that a herb grass called Yanmaicao (Elytrigia) with a remote genetic tie to wheat was free from strip rust disease.
He decided to use the grass and wheat to develop a hybrid that is resistant to fungus infection. But it was not easy.
After nearly 20 years of experimentation, Li finally developed the Xiaoyan series of wheat, which is made up of more than 70 hybrids.
In the past three decades, the Xiaoyan series have increased accumulative wheat output by 7.5 billion kilograms.
Source: China Daily