February 5, 1934–December 2, 2000
BY ARNEL R.HALLAUER
JOHN AXTELL WAS RECOGNIZED nationally and internationally for his research on sorghum (Sorghum bicolor L.). He had broad interests in the breeding and genetics of sorghum, but his research emphasized grain and forage quality and genetic improvement of sorghum germplasm. One of Axtell’s major scientific findings was the discovery and identification of genetic factors responsible for reduced protein availability in grain sorghum. He led an interdisciplinary research team of biochemists, nutritionists, and geneticists who demonstrated that tannins had a negative effect on protein availability and hence on nutritional quality of grain sorghum.
Axtell also recognized the importance of increasing the content of the essential amino acid, lysine, in grain sorghum and the impact that increased lysine levels would have on improving the diets of humans who depend on grain sorghum as a staple food component. He pioneered a successful research program that identified natural and induced high lysine mutants in grain sorghums. Agronomic deficiencies associated with high lysine mutants of cereal crops have limited widespread cultivation of corn (Zea mays L.) and barley (Hordeum vulgare L.). But the high lysine sorghum