20th Eucarpia General Congress "Plant Breeding: The Art of Bringing Science to Life" Zurich Switzerland, August 2016
The 20th Eucarpia General Congress, entitled “Plant Breeding: The Art of Bringing Science to Life”, drew 432 members to the ETH Zurich in Switzerland. The Congress started with inspiring introduction emphasizing several themes: 1) feeding a growing population in a changing climate in a sustainable way is a significant global challenge; 2) vital relationship between basic and applied plant science, 3) reconciling agriculture with the environment, including organic agriculture and the use of cover crops; 4) that plant genetic resources are the raw materials for plant breeding and must be conserved and made accessible to breeders; 5) that there are a range of approaches breeders are using to develop new crops including conventional breeding, mutation-based breeding, and genetic modification; 6) that there is a need to train the next generation of breeders; and 7) that federal and global regulations are impacting activities of plant breeding including those dealing with food safety, plant variety patents/intellectual property, technologies used in plant breeding, labeling products, and discovery of, access to and transfer of wild materials for breeding. From this introduction it was clear that all attendees had a singular focus: to harness natural plant biodiversity and cutting edge research tools to develop high-quality, affordable, safe plants that can be grown as sustainably as possible. It was also clear that there is extensive consideration and experimentation taking place on how best to do this. Postdoc Claudia Ciotir and I attended the Eucarpia meeting with three specific goals in mind 1) to get the word out about the work of The Land Institute and the Perennial Agriculture Project Global Inventory (PAPGI) through presentations; 2) to meet European plant breeders and germplasm conservation scientists; and 3) to learn more about global plant genomic resources and their accessibility. It was a great meeting!
Comparative analysis of perennial and annual legume congeners: great work by SLU Master's student Sterling Herron
Sterling Herron spent the summer at The Land Institute in Salina Kansas investigating seed traits, germination, and growth rates of perennial and annual members of Glycine, Lupinus, and Phaseolus. We are working with David Van Tassel and other scientists at The Land Institute to test hypothesis about why annuals herbaceous plants, but not perennial herbaceous plants, were domesticated in some of these genera.
UPDATE: Sterling is back in Salina this fall measuring massive growth of perennial soybeans and root/shoot biomass ratios. Keep up the great work, Sterling!
The Botanical Society of America partners with Saint Louis University to offer student internships in plant science outreach and education
The Botanical Society of America (BSA – botany.org), based in St. Louis, MO, founded in 1893, is a "not-for-profit" 501(c)(3) membership society whose mission is to promote botany. To accomplish this mission, the objectives of the Society are to: sustain and provide improved formal and informal education about plants; encourage basic plant research; provide expertise, direction, and position statements concerning plants and ecosystems; and foster communication within the professional botanical community, and between botanists and the rest of humankind through publications, meetings, and committees.
In pursuit of its mission, the BSA administers the PlantingScience program (PlantingScience.org), a project funded in part by the National Science Foundation and supported by 13 other plant science societies. PlantingScience is an online learning community in which scientists actively provide mentorship to student lead teams as they work through the scientific process of designing and thinking through their own 3-9 week research projects.
Two Saint Louis University Biology students, Judith Bailey and Samantha Selby, worked as interns in the PlantingScience program in Fall 2015. The internship offered hands-on experience to university students with interests in science, botany, biology and/or education to help facilitate the online science mentoring community. This excellent opportunity facilitated experiences with best practices in science communication and mentoring, behind-the-scenes view of managing an online community, working with a variety of teachers and scientists around the world, and doing science outreach that contributes to increasing science interest and understanding in middle and high school students. As an intern, you will serve for a minimum of one semester. Intern responsibilities included entry and management of data related to students, teachers, and scientists involved in the project, and facilitation of online interactions between PlantingScience students and teachers and their scientist mentors. Interns communicated with program participants via e-mail, online forums, and/or Skype videoconference. Additional tasks included assistance with program promotion via social and print media.
Many thanks to Dr. Catrina Adams, BSA Education Director, for partnering with SLU in this training opportunity and to Judith and Samantha for outstanding contributions to the BSA.
Lab members Allison, Sterling Herron, and Chelsea Pretz traveled to The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas this weekend to attend the Prairie Festival. We enjoyed a great Friday night party and terrific talks on Saturday and Sunday. A major highlight was hearing about all of the updates on perennial Sorghum, intermediate wheatgrass, Silphium, and perennial wheat from The Land Institute scientists. Allison gave an update about the global inventory project, a collaboration between the Perennial Agriculture Project of the Land Institute and the Malone Family Land Preservation Foundation, Saint Louis University, and the Missouri Botanical Garden. We are also grateful to David Van Tassel for leading an early morning prairie walk/prairie plant id walk - it was awesome!! Thanks to The Land Institute for a great weekend - and mark your calendar for the next Prairie Festival September 23 - 25, 2016! Botanists please send corrections on taxonomy in photo captions below to Allison - thank you!
In 2013 we installed an experimental vineyard with multiple accessions of two grapevine species used for rootstocks, Vitis riparia and V. rupestris. Over the last three years we have collected leaf morphology, ionomic, and gene expression data in this vineyard - some of these data were presented at the Botany meetings two weeks ago (read more about this on the previous lab blog post). Grapes LOVE the St. Louis climate and grow vigorously here. Over the last three years many wonderful people have helped us keep these crazy grapes in line and I am so grateful for their help (the list includes MBG staff Chris Hereford and June Hutson and volunteers; SLU graduate students Steven Callen, Laura Klein, Alex Linan, and Sterling Herron; SLU undergraduate students Chad Chapnick, Cassandra Kitchen, Matthew Greg - and many others - thank you!). Today Sterling and I were lucky enough to have a crew of five MBG volunteers to help out, Anne (x2), Harold, Jack, and Tom. You guys were awesome - thanks so much!
Botany 2015 "Science and Plants for People" was held in Edmonton, Alberta July 25-30, 2015. This meeting of meetings included 14 different plant-related societies from the United States and Canada. Three members of the Miller lab attended (Allison, Laura, Sterling). Laura gave a talk on grapevine leaf morphometrics in the Economic Botany section, Allison gave a talk on comparative transcriptomics of two North American grapevines in Genomics/Proteomoics, and Sterling presented his REU work on concord grapes. The lab was also involved in the organization of a symposium "Underutilized crops for secure and green futures." Allison served as the outgoing chair of the Economic Botany section and was recently elected as the Director at Large for Education for the BSA. Thank you to the Botanical Society of America and Saint Louis University for helping us attend this important meeting!
In June 2015 Land Institute (Salina, KS) hosted a terrific meeting to discuss broad issues related to sustainable agriculture in the context of an ecological world view. It was a wonderful, diverse meeting with healthy discussions ranging from philosophy to history to science and everything in between. I learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to participate! Additional photos are available here.
With spring and the return of lovely greenery, so returns the plant collecting season! Expert plant collector and Miller lab friend, Mary Merello, and I are on the road completing what I have termed "the southern loop." This phrase refers to the 10 day trek we will make to visit populations of Vitis rupestris, the rock grape, that grow in south central United States, in the absence of V. riparia. Our mission is to make representative collections of populations of V. rupestris and any co-occurring Vitis from the areas of Ouachita National Forest (Arkansas), natural areas near Del Rio (Texas), Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge (Oklahoma), and Pole Cat Creek drainage (Oklahoma).
The first stop on our itinerary was Ouachita National Forest. Unfortunately, heavy rains prior to our visit flooded the normally dry creek beds that Vitis rupestris prefers to inhabit. Thankfully, though, we were able to find some V. rupestris and some of its relatives among the beautiful natural areas of this part of Arkansas.
Today we left Arkansas for the Lone Star State. First on our list (after some delicious bbq lunch) was a trip to the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT). There, we were amazed by a beautiful, ecologically friendly facility. Staff members treated us to a tour of the facility, allowed us access to their impressive collections, and provided us with valuable collection information and connections. After our fruitful visit, BRIT staff ethnobotanist/outreach specialist Karen C. Hall invited us to survey the impressive Vitis diversity surrounding her home.
Next we had further south, down to Del Rio in search of Texas rock grapes! And with any luck, we'll find some delicious Tex-Mex cuisine, too.
Wes Jackson, Founder and President of The Land Institute, visits Saint Louis University and the Missouri Botanical Garden
Last week we were delighted to welcome Dr. Wes Jackson, Founder and President of The Land Institute, to Saint Louis University (SLU) and the Missouri Botanical Garden. Wes' visit was sponsored by the Saint Louis University Center for Sustainability. Many thanks go to the Center for Sustainability, the SLU Department of Biology and the Missouri Botanical Garden for helping to host Wes' visit!
The primary goal of The Land Institute is "to develop an agricultural system with the ecological stability of the prairie and a grain yield comparable to that from annual crops." Although almost all of our crops were domesticated thousands of years ago, herbaceous perennials are not well-represented among domesticates (see Van Tassel, DeHaan, and Cox. Missing domesticated plant forms: can artificial selection fill the gap? Evolutionary Applications 3: 434 - 452). Major ongoing research programs at The Land Institute are aimed at domesticating perennial grains and legumes for use in a perennial polyculture that mimics the natural landscape. This topic is of great interest to our lab, where for many years we have been studying evolution of perennial crops under domestication, geographic patterns of genetic variation in perennial crop wild relatives, and the genomic basis of adaptation in long-lived plant species. Consequently, we were thrilled when Wes accepted our offer to visit St. Louis, and had a great time during his visit. For an additional post detailing Wes' visit please check out Jennifer Fleischmann's post on the EarthDance web site.
Last week I visited the Millennium Seed Bank, part of Kew Royal Botanic Gardens located at Wakehurst Place in Ardingly, West Sussex, about one hour south of central London by train. Kew's Millennium Seed Bank partnership aims to collect and preserve seed from all of over the world, with a special focus on at-risk species and those most useful for the future. I was particularly interested in their program "Adapting Agriculture for Climate Change" which focuses on collecting and preserving seed from globally important crops and their wild relatives. Many thanks to Ruth Eastwood and Colin Khoury for sharing information via email and phone about this incredible facility. I am especially grateful to Danielle Haddad for taking the time to show me around the Seed Bank. Danielle provided an extremely informative and delightful tour of the Millennium Seed Bank. I learned so much and thoroughly enjoyed the tour.
The Millennium Seed Bank has developed detailed protocols for the collection of seed from wild populations. It includes facilities for the receipt, drying, processing, and testing of seeds via x-ray. Once seeds have reached the appropriate humidity level, they are placed into small glass jars, which are then placed in larger glass jars, and those are stored in huge walk-in freezers. Metadata describing the locality of origin, date of collection, taxonomic identity, and other criticial information are associated with each sample and stored in the database. In addition, the Millennium Seed Bank has greenhouses for growing seeds and testing viability. At the time of my visit, it was estimated that the Millennium Seed Bank houses nearly 2 billion seeds representing about 15% of the known plant species on the planet. Wow!
Miller Lab members