Nazareno Strampelli was an agronomist, geneticist and Italian senator, precursor of the green revolution.
He was one of the most important Italian genetics experts of the time. His efforts led him to make dozens of different varieties of wheat, which he called "Elected Seed" some of which were still cultivated until the eighties of the twentieth century and even in the twenty-first century, which allowed - in Italy and in the countries that they employed - considerable increases in average yields per hectare under cultivation, with substantial benefits on the food availability of populations. The wheat varieties created by Strampelli and exported to Mexico were one of the bases of genetic improvement studies that led to the "green revolution" of the sixties. From a practical point of view, his method of crossing different varieties to obtain new cultivars (crossbreeding) proved to be a winner of the most popular method of selecting seeds only within a single variety (mass selection).
Strampelli was born in Crispiero, a fraction of the town of Castelraimondo (province of Macerata) on May 29, 1866. He attended primary school in Crispiero, the gymnasium and high school in Camerino. He then enrolled at the university, where he attended the Faculty of Law of Camerino for an academic year before moving to the Portici Higher School of Agriculture. He obtained his degree in agriculture in Pisa in 1891 with the highest marks (130/130), the same year he was called to play his first role as "Assistant Operator" at the laboratories of chemistry, mineralogy and pharmacy of the University of Camerino, until 1892. That year he went to direct the chemical laboratory of the Argentario mines, until 1894.
Strampelli dedicated himself to the teaching of Natural Sciences in the gymnasium until 1899: from 1895 to 1899 he was a deputy advisor in the Comizi Agrario Camerinese. From 1896 to 1900 he worked as an assistant in the Physics office and helped in the Chemistry, Mineralogy and Pharmacy department. After leaving the gymnasium he went on to teach agronomy at the Scuola Normale Femminale in Camerino and agrarian at the Technical Institute for Agrimensori.
In 1900 in Camerino he began his studies on the hybridization of wheat species, although he was not yet aware of the studies of Gregor Mendel, who at that time had had a limited diffusion. In Camerino he began working on the "Rieti" type, a grain that he considered potentially very suitable for hybridization, on which he experimented with "Noè" crossings to arrive at a plant resistant to lodging and suitable for cultivation in the Maceratese area. The "Rieti" was hardly susceptible to wheat rust, but was unsuitable for the foggy climate of the area. In 1904 Strampelli studied Mendel (of whom he had unconsciously rediscovered theories with his first experiments) thanks to his mentor Giuseppe Cuboni.
Although not a real novelty (already some specimens had been presented in 1835 in London), the scientific hybridization of wheat had not obtained a significant diffusion and was still considered a minor branch of agronomy. The predominant method for genetic improvement of crops was the "genealogical selection", which was applied to existing crops and which consisted in choosing the breeders after having established their value through the analysis of ancestors, descendants and collaterals. In Italy the agronomist Francesco Todaro was one of the main supporters of this practice: there was a civil debate between him and Strampelli, which lasted until the twenties. In 1940 Todaro honestly admitted the successes of Strampelli.
In 1903, the Guido Baccelli Ministry of Agriculture, Industry and Commerce set up an experimental pedagogical office of Granicoltura in Rieti, with a fund of 7,500 lire. Strampelli contributed to the chair for personal interest and obtained the title, with a theme entitled "Major improvements to be introduced in the cultivation of wheat, taking into account the current state of agriculture in central Italy". The scholar was primarily interested in the possibility of experimenting with his theories in a controlled environment such as the Rieti Plain.
Strampelli's early studies had a hard start: initially the scholar was forced to stay in a hotel, and he had to ask the Municipality of Rieti very insistently with three rooms inside the local Cassa di Risparmio, which he eventually obtained. Between October 1903 and April 1904 the only endowment of the Chair was a wooden stool. Despite the lack of equipment, Strampelli had developed 53 different hybrids at the end of 1904. The following year would have been 112, and 134 in 1906.
The scholar obtained from the prince Ludovico Spada Veralli Potenziani some land to be used for experimental crops in Setteponti, far from Rieti but suitable for the purpose.
Having come to know the work of Gregor Mendel, Strampelli began to develop some species of hybrid wheat, with the aim of solving the problems that then beset the world of agriculture, mainly related to the limited productivity of crops and the numerous seasonal diseases and scourges. to which the native plants were subject.
In December 1906 he was among the members of the Masonic lodge "Giuseppe Petroni".
Thanks to his commitment starting from 2 June 1907, the itinerant chair was converted into an Experimental Granication Station, with the doubling of the appannaggio which will reach 15.000 lire, allowing the scientist to have a solid fund on which to base his studies.
Given the results, the Ministry of Agriculture gave a loan of 125,000 lire between 1911 and 1912, then increased to 155,000 for the purchase of experimental land. Furthermore, an increase in the number of employees and the establishment of experimental land in various parts of Italy was approved.
The diffusion on the market of the first hybridized grains, at the turn of the Great War, gave Strampelli notoriety in Italy and abroad: in 1919 the Accademia dei Lincei granted him the "Santoro" prize of ten thousand lire and the Institut International d ' Agricolture paid him homage on the initiative of the Swedish baron De Bildt and the French Luis-Dop. With the fame achieved, the scholar was able to found in Rome, June 8, 1919, the National Institute of Genetics for Cereal Farming, where he developed further studies on new hard and soft grains. Strampelli maintained the direction of the Roman center, alongside the work on the chair of Rieti.
However, in Rieti, the scientist was also the object of numerous criticisms, especially from the Association founded by him. The new grains were seen as a threat to wheat "Rieti originario", widespread among all the growers of the area and among the most appreciated. In March 1924 the farmers of the association drove from it all those who made use of the modified grains, and sought the help of an expert to improve the wheat "Rieti" with traditional methods, but with little success. Still in 1931, at the height of the "Battle of the wheat", the resistance to the introduction of the new seeds into the reactor was such that the province attracted a note of censure of the same Mussolini, due to its scarce agricultural productivity. However, in 1939 the situation was reversed, and in Rieti 90% of the cultivated wheat was the "chosen species" of Strampelli.
In 1922 the Argentine government invited the scholar to the South American country, where he went accompanied by his son Benedict.
On 7 September 1925, Strampelli enrolled in the National Fascist Party. Mussolini had already called him to important leadership positions in the Battle of the wheat, the campaign to increase Italian cereal yields launched in July of that year. The "Battaglia" had a certain success especially thanks to the "Elect Seed" of the professor.
In 1926 he died Carlotta Parisani, wife of Strampelli and his most important assistant, descendant of the Bonaparte family by Luciano, Napoleon's brother.
Following the great successes obtained by the "Battle of the wheat", the fascist unions proposed him to Mussolini and the Grand Council for the nomination to Senator of the Kingdom, a position to which he was called (despite his reluctance) in 1929.
In 1933 the Regime commissioned a great public demonstration in his honor, to which the most important personalities of the nation took part. However Strampelli participated little or nothing in the political life of the country, preferring to devote himself to his studies. Despite being an authority in the field of genetics, Strampelli did not appear among the signers of the Race Manifesto.
He died in 1942, arousing considerable condolences and emotion in Italy. The funeral took place in solemn form, but in an extremely austere manner: the only crown of flowers on the coffin was the one sent personally by Mussolini.