The 2019 Translational Plant Sciences Minisymposium was held on February 15, at the Inn at Virginia Tech. Themed “Plants in a Changing Environment”, keynote speakers from both academia and industry addressed agricultural threats and opportunities within shifting climate conditions. This year’s featured speakers were Dr. Josh Cohn, Dr. Kathryn Barton, and Dr. Joy Ward.  

            Dr. Josh Cohn’s talk was titled “Biotechnology and Breeding Solutions for Drought Tolerance in Maize.” Dr. Cohn is a senior research scientist with Syngenta. A member of Syngenta’s global bioinformatics group, Dr. Cohn’s expertise is within bioinformatics, systems biology, and functional genomics.  Dr. Cohn earned his doctoral degree in microbiology from the University of Tennessee in 2000, and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Boyce Thompson Institute investigating pathogenesis of Pseudomonas syringae on tomato. Dr. Cohn was also a member of the North Carolina State University team that sequenced the northern root knot nematode, Meloidogyne hapla

            VTLSS sponsored speaker Dr. Kathryn Barton is a professor emerita of plant biology at the Carnegie Institution for Science - Stanford. Dr. Barton’s presentation titled “Stress and Stem Cells in Plants – A Path to New Breeding Strategies for Plant Resilience?”  discussed her experiments designed to understand and describe the gene regulatory networks controlling shoot apical meristem specification and tissue polarization in early leaf development. Her work in this area led to the discovery of overlapping nodes between stress and developmental regulatory networks.  Dr. Barton’s research has shown gene mutation at these overlapping nodes to generate enhanced growth and survival under water stress conditions. Her discovery exemplifies basic experimental work in plant developmental biology and its capacity to lead to novel breeding approaches related to stress resilience.  Dr. Barton earned her Ph.D. in genetics at the University of Wisconson-Madison (1989) focusing on the genes controlling sex determination in the C. elegans germline and was a postdoctoral scientist under the leadership of Dr. Scott Poethig at the University of Pennsylvania, investigating the problem of how plants make new shoot apical meristems and leaves.         

             Dr. Joy K. Ward is the Associate Dean for Science Research in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a Dean’s Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Kansas.  She received her doctorate from Duke University and conducted post-doctoral research at the University of Utah. Dr. Ward’s presentation was titled “Plant Responses to Changing CO2 Availability: From the Last Glacial Through the Future.” Her research is focused on understanding how global change factors such as rising atmospheric CO2, changing precipitation regimes, and increasing temperatures will alter the physiology, growth, and development of plants. In addition to studying how plants will respond to future changes, she also investigates how plants responded to past global change factors, particularly limiting CO2 levels that occurred during the last glacial period.

            The Translational Plant Sciences community is grateful for  support for this year’s symposium from the Fralin Life Science Institute’s VTLSS program, continued support from the Virginia Tech Graduate School IGEP, and 2019 scientific co-organizers Drs. Eric Beers and Amy Brunner.  The Translational Plant Sciences minisymposium is held annually to provide students and faculty the opportunity to gain thoughtful insight from leading industry experts and academic scholars and share current research with colleagues via graduate student oral competitions and poster sessions in this day-long event.