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Seeds and Global Agriculture Focus of International Conference

September 10, 2007

Leading plant scientists from around the world will gather Sept. 17-20 at the University of California, Davis, to explore how research discoveries in seed biology can be parlayed into practical solutions for global agriculture.

The four-day symposium, "Translational Seed Biology: From Model Systems to Crop Improvement," is hosted by the UC Davis Plant Sciences Department. It will be held on campus in Freeborn Hall, with a tour of Sacramento Valley seed-production operations planned for Sept. 20.

"This international symposium will focus on how fundamental knowledge of seed biology can be transferred into practical use to improve the agricultural and nutritional value of crops," said Kent Bradford, conference coordinator and director of UC Davis' Seed Biotechnology Center.

"The ability to modify seeds with specific changes provides enormous potential to meet the growing global demand for food and improved nutrition, but only if research discoveries can be adapted to the biological requirements of seeds and to the practical economic demands of the marketplace," Bradford said.

The symposium will bring together scientists who study fundamental aspects of seed biology as well as crop scientists and breeders who use that knowledge to develop new crop varieties. The meeting coordinators anticipate that this broad range of symposium participants will identify high-priority challenges and opportunities for future crop research and development.

Keynote speaker for the conference's opening evening session on Sept. 17 will be Rob Horsch, director of agricultural programs for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Horsch will discuss the critical role of seed improvement in global agriculture.

Other conference speakers will include:

  • Robert Goldberg, a professor and plant scientist at UCLA. Goldberg is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute researcher. He developed a hybridization system that works universally in major crop plants. (Tuesday morning)
  • Jorge Dubcovsky, a UC Davis wheat geneticist and breeder. He recently identified a gene that can increase the protein and micronutrient content of wheat grains, and is studying the evolution of wheat during its domestication. (Tuesday afternoon)
  • Christina Walters of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation in Ft. Collins, Colo. She studies the mechanisms by which seeds age and die during storage. The center, known as the "Fort Knox of seeds," is the primary repository in the United States for plant seeds and other plant hereditary material. (Wednesday morning)
  • Maarten Koornneef, director of the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Cologne, Germany. He is internationally recognized for developing the small, rapidly growing Arabidopsis thaliana plant as a model genetic system for plant research. Koornneef, a foreign member of the National Academy of Sciences, has identified a number of specific genes that regulate seed germination and dormancy. (Wednesday afternoon)
  • Yuji Kamiya, director of the growth regulation research group at the RIKEN Plant Science Center, a major Japanese research center in Yokohama, Japan. He is an international leader in identifying the natural plant hormones that regulate the development and germination of seeds. (Wednesday afternoon)
  • Jorge Mayer, a biochemist and manager of the Golden Rice Humanitarian Foundation in Freiburg, Germany, which seeks to commercialize rice that is biofortified with beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A. (Wednesday evening banquet)
  • T.J. Higgins, Deputy Chief of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Canberra, Australia. He has developed cowpea seeds that are resistant to insects that consume them during storage and seeds that have increased nutritional content. (Thursday morning)
  • Roger Beachy, a distinguished plant scientist who led the research team that developed the world's first genetically modified food crop, a tomato variety modified for resistance to viral disease. Beachy, an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, is the founding president of the not-for-profit Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Mo. (Thursday morning)

A complete conference program and list of speakers is available online at http://www.plantsciences.ucdavis.edu/seedsymposium2007/

Members of the media who plan to attend the conference are asked to respond to Sue Webster DiTomaso, UC Davis Seed Biotechnology Center, at (530) 754-7333 or scwebster@ucdavis.edu.

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