Tuesday, August 8


Gail Taylor took over the leadership of Plant Sciences at UC Davis in June 2017. The department, is one of the largest on the Davis campus and globally, has a significant presence in the delivery of the highest quality translational Plant Science that moves from fundamental knowledge through to the delivery of improved plants for food, fuel, amenity and protection of ecosystems. Prior to Davis, Gail Taylor was Professor of Plant and Environmental Sciences at The University of Southampton, UK, where she held the post of Director of Research for Biological Sciences. She runs a large research group including breeding novel lines of watercress – Nastursium officinale with improved ant-cancer properties.

Deputy Secretary for Legislation
California Department of Food and Agriculture

Jim Houston was appointed by the Governor Brown as deputy secretary for legislation and public engagement for the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Mr. Houston worked for the California Assembly serving as Legislative Director for Assembly Member Simon Salinas from 2001-2004 and has served as a representative for the Sacramento-based BGS Group since 2004. During that time he represented numerous entities involved in agriculture. He received a law degree from Mc George School of Law in 2009.


NIFA’s Vision: Plant Breeding for Future Agriculture

Dr. Chitnis is a Deputy Director at the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) of USDA. He leads NIFA’s Institute of Food Production and Sustainability (IFPS) and manages a budget of $660M for competitive and capacity grants in plant, animal, and agricultural systems related to research, education and extension activities.

Prior to joining NIFA, he was a research administrator at the National Science Foundation (NSF) – Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, where he served as division director, deputy division director, and program director. As the division director, he was responsible for an annual budget of approximately $125 million in research grants. In addition to leading the division, he managed many inter-directorate programs at NSF, developed collaborations with agencies in other countries, and represented NSF in several interagency activities, such as National Science Advisory Board on Biosecurity and the Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology Subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council.

Prior to joining NSF, he was a professor in the Department of Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Molecular Biology at Iowa State University, and assistant professor in the Division of Biology at Kansas State University. As a researcher at these universities, he received more than $4 million in research grants from federal and private sources including funding from NIFA, NSF, and NIH. Dr. Chitnis authored over 100 peer-reviewed or invited publications in the areas of plant biochemistry, photosynthesis and proteomics. He has mentored over 50 undergraduate students, MS and PhD students, post-doctoral fellows, and AAAS fellows.

Chitnis has a B.S. in botany/plant breeding from the Konkan Agricultural University in India, an M.S. in genetics/biochemistry from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, and Ph.D. in biology from the University of California at Los Angeles.


Charlie’s research program focuses on developing cultivars and germplasm of alfalfa and other crops for forage and bioenergy uses. His research has focused primarily on investigating ways to improve biomass yield, from traditional breeding method enhancements to the use of molecular markers. His current research projects include improving yield through the use of high density, genome-wide SNP markers to implement genomic selection. He is also using QTL mapping to understand the causes of autumn-induced dormancy, so that additional fall yield can be produced without sacrificing needed levels of winter hardiness. In addition to yield, selecting alfalfa for adaptation to heat, drought, and salinity are components of his program.


Utilization of Induced Mutations in Polyploid Wheat to Reveal Hidden Genetic Variability

The major goals of Dr. Dubcovsky’s program are to gain a better understanding of the effects of allelic variants of whet genes that are relevant to agriculture and to develop the tools required for an efficient manipulation of these genes in wheat improvement. His program integrates a broad range of research projects that include whole genome studies, mapping, positional cloning, marker-assisted selection, and a traditional breeding program. This integration has provided Dr. Dubcovsky’s program the ability to discover and deploy new genes or gene variants into commercial wheat varieties. Dr. Dubcovsky has published >225 peer reviewed papers that have been referred >12,500 times. He released 16 wheat cultivars (5 in and 60 improved germplasm and trained 25 PhD students and 9 MS students. Recent accomplishments of Dr. Dubcovsky’s program are the cloning of the genes that control wheat flowering, frost tolerance, stripe and stem rust resistance, and increased levels of proteins in the grain. He recently generated 10 million sequenced mutations in pasta and bread wheat that can be used to generate loss-of-function mutations in >90% of the wheat genes. Dr. Dubcovsky has lead large consortiums of wheat Public breeding programs for the last 17 years that received multiple awards from USDA. Dr. Dubcovsky was elected as a member of the National Academy of Science in 2013 and in 2014 received the Wolf world prize in Agriculture


Wheat Breeding: Lessons I Have Learned

Brett Carver is a regents professor at Oklahoma State University and holder of the wheat genetics chair in agriculture, a faculty position endowed by a local wheat miller, a grain cooperative, and a state wheat research foundation. Dr. Carver has directed a winter wheat breeding and genetics research program for 32 years. He is past chair of the National Wheat Improvement Committee and currently serves on the Wheat Foods Council Advisory Board. Carver has authored or co-authored 150 refereed papers and invited contributions. Since 2001, Carver has released 23 wheat varieties, including Endurance, Duster, and Gallagher, which have led all varieties in acres planted in Oklahoma since 2010. He is the editor of Wheat: Science and Trade, a comprehensive reference book for graduate students, wheat researchers, processors, and practitioners. Carver was named recipient of Governor Fallin’s Outstanding Public Service in Agriculture Award for 2016 and is Fellow of ASA and CSSA. He earned a B.S. degree from the University of Georgia in 1980, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from North Carolina State University, where he conducted research in soybean physiology and genetics under the direction of Drs. Rich Wilson and Joe Burton.




Application of UAVs to Increase Genetic Gain

Dr. Jesse Poland is an Assistant Professor at Kansas State University, Director of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Applied Wheat Genomics and Associate Director of the Wheat Genetics Resource Center. Research in Dr. Poland’s group is focused on wheat genetics, genomics and germplasm improvement. They are currently developing new approaches in quantitative genetics, genomics and high-throughput phenotyping for use in breeding, diversity studies, and association genetics. In collaboration with public breeding programs, Dr. Poland is implementing the use of genomic selection methods to accelerate wheat breeding. In the area of germplasm development, Dr. Poland’s group is focused on developing new breeding lines with resistance to the major pests of wheat including stem rust, stripe rust, leaf rust and Hessian Fly and understanding the genetic basis of these traits. To compliment advances in genomics, Dr. Poland’s lab is developing high-throughput phenotyping approaches for field-based evaluation of breeding lines with the primary focus being genetic characterization of heat and drought tolerance and development of improved germplasm.

Dr. Poland currently supervises six graduate students, six post-doctoral scholars and sits on the graduate committees of students at Kansas State University and at Colorado State University, where he holds affiliate faculty status.







Germplasm Morgue or Gold Mine? Enhancing the Value of Plant Genetic Resource Collections for Plant Breeding

Dr. Pat Byrne is a professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at Colorado State University, where he teaches and conducts research in plant breeding, genetics, and biotechnology. His research focuses on the genetics of drought tolerance and bread making quality in wheat and disease resistance in dry beans. He has done extensive outreach on the benefits and risks of genetically engineered crops. Before coming to CSU in 1997, Dr. Byrne worked for USDA-ARS in Columbia, Missouri, and for agricultural development agencies in Mexico, West Africa, and Nepal.


Adding Nutritional and Industrial Value to the Cotton Patch

Jane Dever is Professor and Project Leader of the Cotton Improvement Program at Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Lubbock. She has a B.S. in Textile Technology, M.S. in Crop Science, and Ph.D. in Agronomy from Texas Tech University. She previously managed global cotton breeding at Bayer CropScience and served on National Genetic Resources Advisory Council. Jane is NAPB Communications Committee Chair, Cotton Crop Germplasm Committee Vice Chair, and FFAR Advisory Council member. She is an ASA Fellow and recipient of Cotton Genetics Research Award, Texas A&M Vice Chancellor Award in Excellence, Bayer Gold Laureate Award, and Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative ‘Golden Hoe’ Award.



Dominique works with the Strawberry Breeding and Research program at UC Davis. Originally from a farming family in the Santa Maria region of California, she left the state to obtain a BS in Biology from Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. She returned to California to pursue a MS at UC Davis, where she works on resistance of Fusarium wilt in strawberry. After she obtains her MS in Fall 2017, she will continue working with the program as a PhD student. Dominique’s current projects include the evaluation of resistance to soilborne diseases (Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. fragariae and Verticillium dahliae) in the UC Davis strawberry germplasm collection and identification of genetic loci linked with resistance to these diseases.


Breeding Citrus Scions and Rootstocks for an HLB-Endemic World

My research program in citrus variety improvement addresses all major citrus production problems in Florida, and also strives to develop new cultivars that will provide growers with new marketing opportunities. Using a team-oriented approach, my program is integrated with other members of the IFAS/CREC cultivar improvement team (F. G. Gmitter, W. S Castle, and G. A. Moore) as well as entomologists, pathologists, and physiologists. I have been a consistently
productive full professor, as evidenced by a ‘Superior’ faculty evaluation every full year that I have been employed by UF (29 consecutive years). Our citrus somatic hybridization program is the most successful in the world, resulting in somatic hybrid plants from more than 200 parental combinations. Our successes in somatic hybridization have allowed us to initiate rootstock breeding and selection at the tetraploid level (a completely unique approach), resulting in the selection of more than 150 superior individual hybrids called “tetrazygs” to date. Progress has also been made towards the development of rootstocks with improved tolerance of Diaprepes root weevil, blight and salinity. More recently, my program has focused on breeding, screening, and field testing new rootstocks (diploid and tetraploid) with focus on development of rootstocks suitable for ACPS (Advanced Citrus Production Systems) and that impart tolerance or resistance to HLB in grafted scions. Seventeen new UFR rootstocks from our program showing enhanced tolerance of HLB (as compared to commercial rootstocks) were recently fast-track released for use in the Florida Citrus Industry, including 7 tetraploids and 2 diploids developed in my program. Most recently, we have used a high throughput method to screen thousands of hybrid rootstock candidates for ability to impart HLB tolerance to grafted scions, and identified several promising candidates. Numerous tetraploid somatic hybrids that combine elite diploid scion material have been produced and several flowering somatic hybrids are being used as pollen parents in our triploid breeding program (under the direction of F. G. Gmitter). We have built the largest collection of quality monoembryonic diploid females and quality tetraploid pollen parents in the world. More than 20,000 triploid hybrids have been recovered from interploid crosses followed by embryo rescue, with a good percentage of these being fathered by somatic hybrids (in collaboration with FG Gmitter). Progress has also been made in the development of improved acid fruits (lemons and limes) and ornamental citrus; new seedless triploid lemon and lime selections have been approved for release. Somatic cybridization was used to create the recently released ‘Summer Gold’ grapefruit, that extends the grapefruit harvest season by several months, with fruit sweeter than any commercial grapefruit cultivar. This technology is also being used to transfer mtDNA potentially conferring canker resistance from kumquat to highly susceptible grapefruit cultivars. Because sweet oranges and grapefruit are not amenable to conventional breeding, my program has focused on the generation of somaclonal variation to produce new cultivars. We have the largest field study in the world to evaluate somaclonal variation in woody fruit trees. Several improved processing oranges have been released, including a Hamlin clone with improved juice color, seedless Valencia clones, Valencia clones with higher yields and lbs. solids production, the new very high quality OLL oranges that are showing better tolerance to HLB, and most recently two early-maturing Valencia clones that have potential to replace Hamlin in the juice industry. Working closely with research associate Dr. Manjul Dutt, we have developed an alternative citrus transformation method that utilizes a citrus anthocyanin gene for selection (replacing GFP) and plant recovery via somatic embryogenesis – resulting in transgenic plants containing no bacterial resistance genes (more consumer friendly). Major emphasis is now on the utilization of transgenic approaches to develop cultivars resistant to citrus greening (HLB) and canker. A major effort is underway to transfer proven anti-microbial peptide constructs and constructs that turn on SAR (Systemic Acquired Resistance) to citrus. Initial greenhouse and field challenges of transgenic citrus plants with HLB and canker look quite promising, and two SAR-induction genes are working successfully in multiple cultivars. Transgenic sweet orange trees overexpressing the Valencia β-1,3-glucanase gene also look promising. Our program is now focusing on the development of all-edible plant gene and eventually all-citrus gene transformation in efforts to increase consumer acceptance of GMO citrus.

Wednesday, August 9






Dr. Phil Simon is a USDA, ARS Research Geneticist and Professor of Horticulture at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. His research in vegetable genetics and breeding has focused on fresh market carrot improvement, targeting improved flavor and nutritional quality, nematode, disease and abiotic stress resistance, and genetic mapping of these and other traits. He leads the USDA breeding effort in the development of widely used carrot germplasm with improved flavor and nutritional value, novel purple color, and root-knot nematode resistance. To complement his breeding effort, along with students and collaborators, he has developed breeding tools, including co-leadership in the sequencing of the carrot genome, and he has collected carrot, Allium, and other vegetable germplasm in ten collecting expeditions. Phil has undertaken related plant breeding research including the first production of true seed in garlic, and the development of cucumber and melon germplasm with orange color and elevated carotene content.

Phil’s early career efforts focused on developing screening methods to breed for sweeter, less harsh carrot flavor, and high carotene carrots as an improved source of vitamin A. His release of purple carrot germplasm in the 1990’s provided a foundation for the re-introduction of novel carrot colors into modern US markets. He leads the Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture (CIOA) project to combine improved flavor and nutritional value in a range of carrot colors, with disease and pest resistance and also with larger tops for better weed competitiveness. He has supervised the training of over 30 graduate students, is a Fellow of the American Society for Horticultural Science, recipient of the ASHS Vegetable Breeding Award, the National Association of Plant Breeders Lifetime Achievement Award, and of an Honorary Doctorate from the Agricultural University of Krakow, Poland. He is a past chair of the Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee.


Julie Dawson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She leads a project with other plant breeders to test vegetable varieties with local farmers and chefs, focused on breeding for flavor and quality in local food systems. Prior to UW Madison, she worked on organic and participatory wheat breeding in Washington, France and New York, and on testing genomic selection of wheat for marginal environments. Her research interests include improving breeding methods to select for quality, and methods to increase our ability to use genetic resources for new environments, production systems and traits.


Micaela Colley is the Program Director of Organic Seed Alliance (OSA), a non-profit. She leads OSA’s research and education programs focused on organic seed production and organic plant breeding. She is the author of several educational publications. Micaela frequently teaches and speaks on organic seed topics and collaborates on research projects nationally. Micaela is also pursuing a PhD focused on organic and participatory plant breeding under Dr. Edith Lammerts van Bueren at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.


Claire is currently part time Executive Director of the Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) and part time Post Doctoral Researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is a co-founder and board member of the Open Source Seed Initiative, which seeks to promote and maintain fair and open access to plant genetic resources through outreach, and an open source release mechanism for plant varieties. Claire is also a co-founder of the Student Organic Seed Symposium, now in its sixth year, which has created a community of graduate students and professionals working toward developing a more robust organic seed system. Her PhD as a Seed Matters Fellow in Organic Plant Breeding at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, focused on assessing genetic variation and freedom to operate in a large collection of U.S. carrot cultivars. Claire’s work asked whether the cultivars with “freedom to operate” in carrot breeding—that is, cultivars without intellectual property restrictions—represent an adequate portion of the total genetic variability of the crop. In addition, in collaboration with Prof. Irwin Goldman, Claire developed eight carrot populations based upon market and color classes using material that was not restricted by intellectual property and released them as OSSI-Pledged populations, thus providing ideal sources of material that all interested can use to breed new open source carrot varieties.


And I Get Paid to Be a Plant Breeder:  40 Years of Pure Fun

P. (Peter) Stephen Baenziger earned degrees from Harvard and Purdue Universities. Before joining the faculty at the University of Ne­braska, he worked eight years for the USDA-ARS, and three years with Monsanto Corporation. His research focuses on improving the agronomic performance and winterhardiness of small grains and on developing new breeding methods. He has co­released 47 cultivars and 36 germplasm lines or populations.   His teaching and service activities emphasize graduate education and outreach in plant breeding and genetics, as well as, leadership roles in numerous scientific societies, international centers, and initiatives.


Accelerated plant breeding through chromosome manipulation

Dr. Henry has been a Project Scientist at the UC Davis Genome Center since 2011. She received a BS degree in Biology and an MS degree in Biochemistry from the University of Liege, Belgium and a Ph.D. degree in Biology from the University of Washington, Seattle. She uses genomics approaches to investigate and harness the effects of gene dosage variation on gene function. She works on a variety of crop species, with an emphasis on polyploid species. Current projects include deciphering the mechanisms of sex determination in persimmon, developing efficient methods for mutation detection in large populations, and developing breeding and functional genomics resources in poplar.




Increasing genetic gain by reducing ploidy in potato

Shelley Jansky is a Research Geneticist with the USDA-ARS and a professor in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research program focuses on potato germplasm enhancement, with the goal of developing genetics resources and parents for use by breeders in cultivar development.  Currently, her program is developing recombinant inbred line populations in interspecific diploid potato populations and self-pollinating cultivated potato to create inbred lines for breeding and genetics analyses.  Shelley received her B.S. in Biology at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.