In This Issue

May 8, 2009


• Brazil, China and India Emerging as Top Biotech Countries 
• Food Industry Needs Technology 
• Modern Crop Varieties can Increase Local Genetic Diversity 
• ICRISAT Director Gets a Third Term in Office 

• FAO Notes Bumper Rice Harvest in Africa 

• EMBRAPA and JIRCAS Team up to Develop Drought-Proof Soybean 
• Brazilian Researchers Develop Vitamin A Enriched Maize 
• Better Understanding of a Major Wheat Killer 
• Gates Foundation Gives Funds for Virus-Fighting Tomato 
• Red Fungus Turned Yellow May Help Tackle Vitamin A Deficiency 
• UALR Tomato: Potential for Drought, Disease Resistance, and Space Agriculture? 
• New Pythium Species Isolated By Ohio Scientists 
• Monsanto Sues Pioneer Over Alleged Patent Infringement 

Asia and the Pacific
• Researchers Release Draft Sequence of Date Palm Genome 
• Kranthi is ICAC Cotton Researcher of the Year 
• Hu Jintao Inspires Researchers to Strive for Technological Breakthroughs 
• Limited Release of GM Wheat and Barley in Australia 

• Research Collaboration to Tackle Late Blight 
• New Yellow Rust Strains Threaten Winter Wheat 
• New Biotech and Genomic Center for Plants in Madrid 

• Grafting Mediates Exchange of Genetic Information 
• New ABA Receptors Identified 
• Tobacco Making Human-Like Antibodies 
• Scientists Develop Soft-Rot Resistant Potatoes 

• Seed Biotechnology Symposium to Mark 10th Year Anniversary 

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Brazil, China and India are three of the world's leading countries that are spearheading emerging biotechnology clusters that can rival those in the United States. This was forwarded in an article in Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News based on interviews with biotech industry leaders.

Belo Horizonte, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil were identified as the three leading emerging biotech clusters in Brazil where most of the activities were centered on agricultural biotechnology. The People's Republic of China has declared as priority the development of a vibrant biotech industry and several biotech parks have emerged. Shanghai and Beijing host the largest groupings of biotech companies. Similarly, predictions are that within the next two to three years, India will have 27 biotech parks through public/private partnerships.

View the full article at

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The global food industry needs technology says an article entitled "Technology's Role in the 21st Century: Food Economics and Consumer Choice". Author Jeff Simmons of Elanco Animal Health avers that "the consequences of failing to use these science-based technologies and innovations will be disastrous..., we all share in the responsibility to ensure that new agricultural technologies as well as those proven safe and effective over a decade continue to be available."

Simmons adds that consumers deserve the widest possible variety of safe and affordable food choices, and that the food production system can mitigate the food economics challenge and achieve an "ultimate win." Collaboration, choice and technology, says the author, will provide the direction and the necessary requirements for an "ultimate win" in the food economics challenge.

For a copy of the article see

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"Participatory breeding and client-oriented breeding programs should choose locally adapted varieties as parents for breeding. It ensures that landrace genes are conserved and increases the likelihood that the breeding program will succeed." This was the conclusion of a paper published in the journal Field Crops Research. The study began in the early 1990s, when a Ph.D student in Bangor University, United Kingdom started work on developing three rice varieties that can be planted in upland Nepal. Bhuwon Sthapit, now a senior scientist in Bioversity International, worked closely with the farmers in setting the goals of his program and in deciding which varieties to choose among the many crosses that would occur.

These varieties were widely adopted, and by 2004, 60 percent of the lands involved in Sthapit's study were used for at least one of the three chosen rice varieties, while 40 per cent was used for the traditional varieties. An international team of researchers from Bangor and Nepal assessed the genetic diversity in the area through DNA analysis of three client-oriented breeding (COB) varieties, a random selection of landraces and a control group of modern varieties. It was determined that as long as the COB varieties were adopted, there would be an increase in diversity due to the presence of high-yielding parental alleles which were previously unavailable in the area. Also, the landraces were preserved, as the alleles from the landraces were transferred to the modern varieties.

The full article is available for viewing at:

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The Governing Board (GB) of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has unanimously appointed William D. Dar for a third five-year tem as Director General from January 2010 to 2014. The decision recognized the continuing excellent performance of ICRISAT during the last two five-year terms of Dr. Dar which started in 2000. 

In accepting the appointment, Dr. Dar said it gives him the opportunity to continue his work in leading the ICRISAT team composed of innovative and highly-trained research scientists. "As the leading international dryland agricultural research institute, ICRISAT has improved the productivity of nutritious dryland crops that help sustain the lives of the poor farmers. By helping the farmers to overcome current risks we enable them to climate-proof their agricultural systems for the future," Dr Dar noted. 

For details of his news visit

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There has been a steady increase in the rice production in Africa in the past years. According to the latest figures from the Rice Market Monitor released by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), this has been because of favorable weather and the positive effect of Africa's adoption of NERICA's rice varieties.

"We do not think that it is just a coincidence that Burkina Faso and Mali have had these spectacular successes. They were the first countries to evaluate and release the lowland NERICA varieties developed recently by the Africa Rice Center (WARDA) in close association with national programs," said  Papa Abdoulaye Seck, WARDA Director General.

Because of their success in rice production, Nigeria was able to reduce its rice imports in 2005.  FAO said that West Africa is not the only region where NERICA is performing spectacularly. The varieties have leapfrogged from Guinea to Uganda in Eastern Africa, where they are blazing a new trail of success.

For more information on this topic, go to

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The International Cooperation Agency of Japan (JICA) has approved a USD 6 million project to develop drought tolerant soybean varieties in Brazil. The five-year project will be spearheaded by the Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences (JIRCAS) and the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA). It is one of 21 projects selected by the Agency of Science and Technology of Japan, of which some will be in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

Alexandre Lima Nepomuceno, researcher at EMBRAPA Soja, in coordination with researcher Kazuko Yamaguchi-Shinozaki of JIRCAS will lead the said project. Research began in 2003 when JIRCAS signed an agreement to transfer the gene DREB (Dehydration Responsive Element Binding Protein) to EMBRAPA. Nepomuceno said that results are positive and they will be subjecting the soybean cultivar to field tests to assess the tolerance of the plant to drought in the 2009 to 2010 season.

For further reading, see

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Maize varieties with increased pro-vitamin A content could be growing in Brazil by next year. Researchers at the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA) are developing maize varieties with increased levels of beta-carotene. So far they have bred maize that contains 9.2 micrograms beta-carotene per gram kernel. That's four times the beta-carotene content of traditional yellow maize varieties. The EMBRAPA researchers are being supported by Harvestplus, a research initiative implemented by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) that focuses on using the tools of plant breeding to biofortify staple food crops.

The agronomic performance of the vitamin A-fortified maize cultivar will be evaluated this planting season. If everything goes well, the new maize variety will be available to farmers by 2010. EMBRAPA is also doing biofortification research on cassava, beans, sweet potato, cowpeas, and wheat.

For more information, read

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Puccinia triticina, the fungus that causes the dreaded wheat leaf rust, is no easy foe. Leaf rust is the world's most widely distributed wheat disease. Reports indicated that infection can lead to yield loss of up to 20 percent. In Kansas, for instance, wheat producers lost some 50 million bushels to a leaf rust epidemic three years ago. Emerging strains of Puccinia are an increasing threat to wheat crops in Southern United States.

The fight against the fungus relies mainly on varietal resistance. More than 60 genes have been identified to combat Puccinia. But the pathogen is so genetically diverse and quick to adapt that most wheat resistance genes prove ineffective within a few years. Thanks to the effort of researchers at the US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS), scientists are now armed with information to combat the fungus. James Kolmer and colleagues has completed a comprehensive genetic analysis of emerging strains of P. triticina collected in a recent survey of North America's major wheat-producing areas. According to them, the fungus comes in five genetically distinct groups in the US, with two widely distributed groups accounting for 90 percent of the total population. The genetic groups were found to differ in their ability to overcome resistance genes.

The findings will help scientists monitor the shifts in Puccinia virulence and unravel clues about its migration patterns.

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A USD 100,000 fund has been awarded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to Rutgers University researchers working to develop vaccine-producing transgenic tomatoes. Led by Eric Lam, the Rutgers scientists are employing combinatorial RNA interference (RNAi) to develop resistance-proof vaccines from tomatoes. Combinatorial RNAi molecules can inhibit a virus' lifecycle by targeting several genes. Even if one gene mutates to resist the drug, an RNA molecule can go after one or more alternative genes essential to the virus's replication processes. According to a Rutgers press release, simply growing and eating the tomato may be a way of producing and delivering the RNA therapeutics to economically challenged or remote communities.

Read the press release at

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The alleviation of the acute vitamin A deficiency (VAD) in Africa and Southeast Asia is the focus of a research in the USDA-Agricultural Research Service in Pullman Washington led by geneticist Daniel Skinner. An edible fungus Monascus purpuerus popularly used in Asian fermented rice dishes was improved to contain the genes for producing beta carotene.

Skinner and his colleagues introduced the two copies of beta carotene genes from the fungus Blakeslea trispora into the DNA of Monascus, enabling it to make the orange-colored pigment. Beta carotene analysis showed that the modified Monascus can produce about as much beta carotene as carrot, under the right growth conditions. Consuming this modified mushroom in the Asian and African diet is hoped to contribute to the prevention of VAD, the leading cause of preventable blindness, illness and death from severe infections.

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Have you ever imagined a tomato plant growing on Mars? It might come to reality since scientists from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) are developing a tomato plant that will grow in space and will withstand droughts and diseases when planted on earth. The Arkansas Space Grant Consortium funded the three year research to provide fresh produce for astronauts on extended missions to Mars. The research aimed to develop crops resistant to drought and diseases while improving its nutritional value.

Dr. Mariya Khodakovskaya, assistant professor of applied science, and Dr. Stephen Grace, associate professor of biology at UALR, are preparing to patent ways to increase antioxidant production in drought and disease tolerant plants. Their transgenic tomatoes show dramatic increases in drought tolerance, vegetative biomass and fruit lycopene concentration. Lycopene is essential in preventing cancer and chronic diseases. Dr. Khodakovskaya will identify key genes and gene networks pertaining to stress tolerance and activation of antioxidant production in tomato plants. "As soon as we develop a new tomato with drought tolerance and more antioxidants, we will test how it grows in space conditions," Khodakovskaya said.

Read the full news story at

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Scientists at the Ohio State University have identified a new species of Pythium, a water mold that attacks soybeans and corn in saturated soils killing newly emerged seedlings. Pythium pathogens are one of the major causes of crop replants, and are becoming more economically important because of the continued rise in seed costs. The new Pythium species, called Pythium delawarii, was labeled as a new species when its characteristics didn't match any of the more than 200 described Pythium species. Anne Dorrance, lead author of the paper published in Mycologia, said that the discovery would aid in future management of Pythium diseases and help in developing new cultivars and seed treatment compounds.

For more information, read The paper published by Mycologia is available at

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Two of the biggest players in the ag-biotech arena are set to face each other in court. Monsanto Company has filed a patent infringement suit against DuPont and its owned subsidiary Pioneer Hi-Bred International over an alleged unlawful use of Monsanto's Roundup Ready technologies in a new Pioneer herbicide-resistant soybean line. Pioneer plans to stack the Roundup Ready trait with their Optimum GAT trait.

The companies have exchanged some harsh words. "As the saying goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," said Monsanto Chief Executive Officer Hugh Grant. "However, unlawfully taking technology is neither imitation nor flattery; it is unethical and wrong." DuPont group Vice President James C. Borel in a press release said that Monsanto is trying to limit the availability of competitive products. He said that the lawsuit incorrectly claims that Pioneer and DuPont may not combine their Optimum GAT trait with any soybeans already containing a Roundup Ready trait.

The press releases are available at and

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Asia and the Pacific

Scientists at the Weill Cornell Medical College (WCMC) in Qatar have successfully mapped the draft genome of date palm (Phoenix dactylifera), an important agricultural crop in Middle East and Northern Africa. The scientists hope that the development will boost efforts to breed improved, disease-resistant date palm varieties.

The team used genome shotgun sequencing to map the genome of the date palm variety Khalas. Joel Malak, genomics laboratory director at WCMC, said that by using this approach, the researchers were able to develop a relatively unbiased view of the gene space of the entire date palm plant at a fraction of the cost and in a much shorter period of time. The shotgun approach takes advantage of the lower repetitive DNA in the date palm gene regions. According to results, the genome is around 500 million basepairs long.

Malak said that sequencing work was actually a proof-of-concept study. The original goal was to establish and validate the capabilities of the genomics lab for large-scale genomics projects. The draft genome is available to the public at

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The International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) honored Dr. Keshav Kranthi, Acting Director of the Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR), India with the first  "ICAC Cotton Researcher of the Year" award. Given to provide international recognition to exceptional achievements, the award helps raise awareness of the importance of cotton research. 

Kranthi is an entomologist and has been working at CICR in Nagpur since 1992 and is currently in-charge of the institute. He developed easy-to-use diagnostic kits to detect Bt cotton which has contributed to the reduction in spurious Bt cotton seeds in India. He developed an extensive database on bollworm resistance to insecticides and Bt toxins and discovered the mechanisms of resistance. Likewise, he developed stochastic models and insect resistance management strategies (IRM) that benefited small farmers and reduced insecticide use in India.

Twelve candidates from eight countries in three disciplines of breeding/production, plant protection and biotechnology were nominated for the award.

For more details visit For more information about biotech developments in India contact ISAAA South Asia office by emailing or

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The development of modern agriculture needs scientific and technological support. Chinese President Hu Jintao made this statement when he visited Beijing-based China Agricultural University (CAU) on May 2, 2009  in celebration of Chinese Youth Day. This day commemorates events to overthrow the feudal society and promote scientific and democratic ideas. 

President Hu visited Functional Genomics Lab and State Key Lab of Plant Physiology and Biochemistry in CAU and expressed his hope that "agricultural researchers should aim to be at the forefront of the world's agri-technology, focus on domestic agriculture demands, and strive for breakthroughs in technology so as to promote modern agriculture in China."

Read the press release at and

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Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) has submitted an application to the country's Gene Technology Regulator for the limited release of 17 wheat lines and 10 barley lines genetically modified for enhanced nutrient utilization efficiency. The trial will take place at one site in the Australian Capital Territory on a maximum area of 1 ha from 2009-2012. The transgenic barley and wheat lines carry an unnamed metabolic enzyme gene from barley. They also contain the antibiotic resistance marker genes nptII and hpt from E. coli.

The Gene Technology Regulator has prepared a Risk Assessment and Risk Management Plan (RARMP) for this application which concludes that the proposed release poses negligible risks to people and the environment. CSIRO is bound to implement measures to restrict the spread and persistence of the GMOs and the introduced genetic material.

More information is available at

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Late blight is one of the most feared diseases in potatoes. Caused by the fungal pathogen, Phytophthora infestans, the disease is responsible for the Irish Potato Famine that led to emigration of more than 1.5 million Irishmen during mid-19th century. It cost potato growers some £3billion (USD 4.5 billion) a year in crop loss and pesticide cost. Cousin species Phytophthora ramorum and Phytophthora kernoviae were recently found infecting native trees and shrubs.

Scientists from the University of Dundee, the University of Warwick, and the Scottish Crop Research Institute are teaming up to examine the molecular mechanism of Phytophthora infection. The collaboration will be supported by £3.5million (USD 5.25 million) grant from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). The researchers will specifically focus on effectors, or protein-binding molecules, triggered by Phytophthora attack.

For more information, visit

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A new race of yellow rust which can devastate winter wheat seeds is being studied by the United Kingdom's National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB). Rosemary Bayles, a researcher from NIAB, said that outbreaks of the disease have already been detected in wheat crops despite predictions that it would not be a problem.

 The new strains were found to affect Solstice seedlings, a popular winter wheat variety known to possess resistance to all known races of yellow rust. NIAB researchers are currently evaluating the susceptibility of other popular wheat varieties to the new yellow rust races.

For the original article visit:

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A new Center for Plant Genomics and Biotechnology located at the Science and Technology Park of the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, was inaugurated last May 1, 2009. It is dedicated to advanced research to improve understanding of plants and microorganisms associated with them to enhance efficiency of crop production.

Javier Uceda, the rector of the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, said that the center " will cover a large part of the multidisciplinary issues in plant biotechnology, in addition to being a center of excellence in training human resources in graduate programs, masters and doctoral programs of quality."

BGCP's studies are categorized into three fields: Plant Developmental Biology, Plant-Microorganism Interactions and Functional Genomics. The center will investigate the adaptation of plants to different conditions such as soil salinity and defense mechanisms against different pathogens.

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Grafting is a method of asexual propagation widely used by plant breeders to modify plant architecture or introduce disease resistance. It can also occur naturally when shoots or roots of trees come into contact. It is generally believed that the grafted tissues maintain their genetic integrity, in that their genetic materials do not mix. But a team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology proved otherwise. By grafting tobacco plants expressing different marker genes, Sandra Stegemann and Ralph Bock showed that plants grafted together can exchange genetic information. The finding has important implications for grafting techniques and also provides a possible path for horizontal gene transfer.

"Our discovery of grafting-mediated gene transfer further blurs the boundary between natural gene transfer and genetic engineering and suggests that grafting provides an avenue for genes to cross species barriers," wrote the scientists in a paper published by Science.

Stegemann and Bock grafted two transgenic tobacco lines carrying different antibiotic resistance marker and fluorescent protein genes. One line carries the marker genes on its nuclear genome and the other carries the foreign genes on its chloroplast genome. The marker genes were found to be frequently exchanged between cells across the graft site. However, the scientists found that the transfer would only occur when the genes are carried in the chloroplast genome and that gene transfer is confined to the graft site and no long-distance transfer may occur.

The paper published by Science is available at

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Life is difficult, especially for plants. They have to endure environmental stresses such as drought, freezing and heat. Good thing they are equipped with an arsenal of genes that helps them face adverse environmental conditions. Plants use specialized signals, called stress hormones, to sense difficult times and adapt to stressful conditions to enhance survival. One particular hormone, abscisic acid (ABA), is produced by a plant in large amounts during times of stress, and particularly during conditions of drought. The exact molecular mechanism by which ABA helps plants tolerate drought remains poorly understood. The quest for the ABA receptor is highly controversial, involving retractions of scientific papers as well as the publication of papers of questionable significance.

An international team of researchers from U.S., Canada and Spain has recently identified novel ABA receptors. Using pyrabactin, a synthetic growth inhibitor that mimics ABA which the team identified through chemical genomics, the researchers pinpointed PYR/PYLs as ABA receptors functioning at the apex of a negative regulatory pathway. PYR/PYLs regulates the ABA signaling pathway by inhibiting the action of Type 2C protein phosphatases (PP2Cs), proteins that play linchpin role in the relay of ABA signals.

Sean Cutler, lead author of the paper published by Science, is aware of the prior questionable data in the ABA field. So he took the unusual step of sharing his data with key competitors and turning them into collaborators before publishing the results. In a press release, Natasha Raikhel, the director of the University of California's Center for Plant Cell Biology and a co-author of the paper said: "Several high-profile papers have tried to claim discovery of ABA receptors but their research could not stand the test of time… I believe this time, Dr. Cutler and his team have isolated a true ABA receptor."

View the press release at The paper published by Science is available to subscribers at

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Numerous studies have demonstrated the feasibility of plants as hosts for the cost efficient production of pharmaceutical proteins such as monoclonal antibodies. Scientists can now produce large quantities of monoclonal antibodies, up to 500 mg/kg leaf, using virus-based transient expression systems. However, most pharmaceutical proteins are complex proteins that require post-translational modification for biological activity. Some proteins need to be sugar coated, or be glycosylated, to function correctly. The sugar coating, or N-glycans, produced by plant cells are quite different from those produced by animal cells. These differences currently limit the commercial production of glycosylated plant-made pharmaceuticals.

A group of researchers from France and Canada has developed a way to ‘humanize' the structure of plant N-glycans in tobacco by silencing the activity of some plant enzymes and transient co-expression of a chimaeric human β1,4-galactosyltransferase, an enzyme that plays a pivotal role in the glycosylation process in mammalian cells. The approach employed by the scientists did not only result in the production of antibodies with ideal N-glycans structure but recombinant antibodies were produced as well at levels reaching 1.5 g/kg fresh weight, 100 percent higher compared to similar studies.

The paper published by Plant Biotechnology Journal is available at

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By introducing a synthetic gene that codes for maiginin 2, researchers at the New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research Ltd developed potato plants resistant to Erwinia carotovora. The soil dwelling microbe causes the dreaded soft rot disease in potatoes, carrots, and other vegetables, and infections often result in a complete crop loss.

The soft-rot resistant potato plants that the New Zealand scientists developed express a synthetic maiginin 2 gene. First identified in frog skin, maiginin peptides are selectively toxic to microbes and not mammalian cells. Several studies have also shown that the peptide has a broad activity against numerous phytopathogens, including some fungi and the bacterial agents that cause common scab and blackleg.

In engineering the maiginin gene, the researchers made several mutations to reduce the peptide's susceptibility to proteolytic cleavage and increase its activity against prokaryotes. The transgenic potato lines were tested for three planting seasons. The soft-rot resistant potatoes were found to be similar to conventional potato varieties in terms of yield and other agronomic performance criteria.

The article published by the Open Plant Science Journal is available for free at

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The Seed Biotechnology Center at the University of California, Davis, will celebrate its 10th anniversary with a May 11-12 symposium titled "Seed Biotechnologies: Filling the Gap between the Public and Private Sector." Keynote speakers will be Rob Dirks of Rijk Zwaan, a vegetable breeding and seed production firm based in the Netherlands; Molly Jahn, a plant geneticist and dean of the University of Wisconsin — Madison's College of Agricultural and Life Sciences; and Mathilde Causse, head of the fruit and vegetable genetics and breeding unit at the National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) in France.

Additional information and registration for the conference are available at For more information, contact Jamie Miller, Seed Biotechnology Center, (530) 752-9985,

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