September/October 2018

Volume 45, Issue 5

Presidents Letter—ASPB and the Current State of Plant Science Research Funding

President’s Letter

ASPB and the Current State of Plant Science Research Funding

University of Florida

Harry KleeIn my July/August President’s Letter, I presented thoughts on why I am optimistic about our ability to feed 10 billion or more people and why I am optimistic about the future of plant science. But let me emphasize that this optimism is grounded in the assumption that governments, nonprofits, and industry invest sufficient resources in the research that makes all of this possible. This assumption leads me to the issue of how we ensure that this funding, in particular from the U.S. government, occurs.

Although many ASPB members know that we have a Science Policy Committee, our member survey indicates that there is a generational split within the membership in how much the work that this committee does is appreciated; younger members value it relatively less than older ones. This is a clear example to me of messaging. Those of us who have been around plant science for a while understand the importance of staking out a strong presence on Capitol Hill, presenting a clear message of the importance of plant science research dollars to our future well-being.

This year, I am happy to say, was a good one for science research. The NSF budget received a 3.9% increase. The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture program received a 3.3% increase. The DOE’s Office of Science received a 16% increase. I’d love to tell you that these increases were specifically the result of ASPB lobbying. Nathan Springer, the current Science Policy Committee chair, together with Tyrone Spady, director of legislative and public affairs, and Lewis-Burke Associates, our lobbying firm, did a great job. Specific language from ASPB made it into funding and farm bills. I personally saw how our message was positively received by members of Congress and their staffs. Bottom line: I believe we made a difference. Would the increased funding have occurred absent ASPB’s efforts? Probably. But this is an experiment that I am not willing to run. We’re not the only group that lobbies Congress for increased research funding. But we do a great job, and you need to be aware of this effort.

But it wasn’t all rosy this year. One program that has historically been remarkably effective at delivering cutting-edge outcomes, the NSF’s Plant Genome Research Program (PGRP), is proposed to receive a 46% cut in their operating budget. Although the reasons for that cut are complex and not entirely clear as of this writing, the cut in a program that has been so important and central to all plant science raises important questions about how we grow our future plant biology research investment.

PGRP started life as a line item in the federal budget. The initiative was unique in that it had strong support from a broad coalition of academics, government, industry, and agricultural commodity groups. Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) was an outspoken champion of PGRP, and the program had broad bipartisan support. Two decades later, we can look back and say that this program paid huge dividends to fundamental researchers such as myself.

The research tools available to us today have allowed us to achieve insights unimaginable two decades ago. The genomes of every major U.S. crop were determined with PGRP funding, launching the -omics era and providing foundational discoveries that impact research from gene discovery to evolution and ecology. Essential to the original mission, PGRP-funded research has paid huge dividends to agriculture and our economy. Those genomes and the associated technology were the base on which molecular breeding was built. We can now discover and deliver specific traits far more rapidly and precisely than ever. Genomics made phenomics both necessary and possible. Rapid trait discovery and deployment into crops are essential in the face of a changing climate.

So how do we move forward? I think we need to embrace the PGRP model. The brilliant thing is that it was new money. Rather than asking Congress for across-the-board increases in plant science funding, it was a specific initiative that made bold promises to a broad coalition of interest groups that cut across political parties. The message was simple and understandable to scientists and nonscientists alike. Put up the money, and we’ll deliver fundamental breakthroughs that will revolutionize the way we develop new crops. Make the investment, and we’ll make U.S. farmers the most efficient producers in the world. We will produce far more food way more cheaply, and that will drive food security and economic growth.

How do we move forward? Here’s where I am going to separate myself from many of my colleagues. A lot of smart people have put a lot of time into vision statements. The latest is the recent National Academies report Science Breakthroughs to Advance Food and Agricultural Research by 2030 (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2018). I don’t find these documents helpful. As I have stated in previous President’s Letters, I don’t believe that we can predict where the major breakthroughs will occur. It’s easy to say that we need to develop plants that more efficiently use nutrients and water or are more tolerant of weather extremes. It’s quite another thing to tell us how to achieve those goals. I also have personal difficulty trying to scare people with scenarios of mass starvation when the available data just don’t support those outcomes. The harsh reality is that if we don’t fund the necessary research, China will. The exciting breakthroughs in plant science will occur; it just may not be in the good old U. S. of A.

What should the message be? Morally, I have problems with scaring our elected representatives with doomsday scenarios. And I don’t believe they are effective. Telling them that U.S. agriculture, our farm export economy, and the industry that supports it are in danger is a far more effective strategy. This is the PGRP message from two decades ago, effectively expressed in a letter to The Plant Cell by Bennetzen et al. (1998) delivering a compelling message supporting what became PGRP. It wasn’t based on scaring people. It was about competitiveness and developing the tools that enabled both fundamental and applied research for years to come.

Although I have my own ideas on what a simply framed message should be, I don’t feel that it’s my place to dictate the scientific goals. That has to emerge from a community consensus. Rather, I want to push the process forward and provide some guidelines for how I think it should work. Again, my opinions will probably diverge from those of many of my colleagues.

I don’t like those visionary documents that say we should work on A, B, and C. Rather, I take a capitalist approach to science. I believe that individual ideas and people should trump specific programmatic themes. What I most like about PGRP is that it has thoroughly changed from its original mission, adapting with the times. We need that simple message to get buy-in from the people controlling the money. But the mission needs to be a broad message that can embrace a broad coalition of researchers and end users. Then, we give the money to the brightest people with the best ideas and see where they take us. Without picking on specific funding programs in any branch of the federal government, the more specific the funding mandate, the less value on investment delivered.

In conclusion, I have outlined a framework for what needs to happen. We must have a simple, salable message with buy-in from researchers and end users. That message needs to be inclusive of the entire plant science community. It needs to be about competitiveness, and not about scaring people with mass starvation. And most importantly, it needs to be broadly crafted to ensure that funding goes to the best available ideas.

And on that note, I turn my pulpit over to our next president, Rob Last.

Bennetzen, J. L., Kellogg, E. A., Lee, M., and Messing, J. (1998). A plant genome initiative [letter to the editor]. The Plant Cell 10: 488–493.
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2018). Science breakthroughs to advance food and agricultural research by 2030. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Rob Last Assumes Presidency October 1

Rob Last Assumes Presidency October 1

Rob Last became ASPB president October 1, 2018. He succeeds Harry Klee, who became immediate past president.

Rob is Barnett Rosenberg Professor of Plant Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Michigan State University. He brings to ASPB experience in varied areas of research, teaching, and leadership in academia, industry, and government. Rob received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry, with minors in botany/bacteriology and zoology, from Ohio Wesleyan University. He earned a PhD in biological sciences from Carnegie Mellon University working on yeast genes involved in pre-mRNA splicing.

Rob then merged his interests in plant biology, genetics, and biochemistry as an NSF postdoctoral fellow in Gerald Fink’s group at Whitehead Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This work involved a molecular genetic dissection of the tryptophan biosynthetic pathway of Arabidopsis, including identification of a series of auxotrophic mutants.

Rob moved to the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) at Cornell University in 1989, where he was an adjunct faculty member in the Section of Genetics and Development and the plant biology graduate program. At BTI he received the NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award and expanded his research interests to include studies of biochemical mechanisms of plant abiotic stress adaptation, primarily against UV-B and oxidative stress. This work led to insights on the role of specialized metabolites as UV protective agents, the function of Vitamin C in stress tolerance, and genetic dissection of ascorbate biosynthesis.

Rob spent 1998–2002 as a founding science director at Cereon Genomics, a wholly owned subsidiary of Monsanto. His group did early work on Arabidopsis phenomics and developed industrialized map-based cloning methods for commercial targets. Cereon also performed shotgun sequencing of the Arabidopsis Landsberg erecta genome and released tens of thousands of genetic markers to the public. Following 18 months as a program officer in the NSF Biology Directorate, Rob moved back to academic research as a professor in the Michigan State University (MSU) Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Department of Plant Biology.

In 2009 Rob was honored as a fellow of AAAS and of ASPB. He received the MSU University Distinguished Faculty Award in 2012. Rob has spent sabbaticals at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany, and as Erna and Jakob Michael Visiting Professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel.

Rob’s overarching research interest is understanding how higher plants use metabolism to adapt to the environment and how primary consumers of plant foods—including humans—benefit from these metabolic strategies. Until several years ago his research exclusively used genetically tractable model organisms, but he now uses genomics technologies to study the full range of plant metabolic strategies that evolved over millions of years. Phylogeny-guided approaches are being used to understand how synthesis of glandular trichome insecticidal specialized metabolites evolved over hundreds of thousands to tens of millions of years. This work involves collaboration among exceptional trainees and peers who are experts in computational biology, analytical chemistry, biochemistry, and genomics.

Rob has served research and education in a variety of roles. In 2006 he established a summer Research Experiences for Undergraduates program, Plant Genomics at MSU (, which will enter its 14th year in 2019, and he is founding director of the NIH-funded Plant Biotechnology for Health and Sustainability Graduate Training Program (, currently in its fifth year. He served the three-week-long Cold Spring Harbor Plant Course in a variety of capacities, including six years as a full instructor.

Rob has served science publishing as associate and monitoring editor at Plant Physiology and editor-in-chief for The Arabidopsis Book. More recently he had editorial roles at Science Advances, Current Opinion in Plant Biology, and Frontiers in Plant Metabolism and Chemodiversity. He served on a variety of advisory boards, including as founding chair of the board of directors of the iPlant Collaborative (now CyVerse) and chair of the scientific advisory board for the Genome Canada –funded PhytoMetaSyn synthetic biology project. Rob currently is on the advisory boards for the BioDiscovery Institute at the University of North Texas and the Missouri Transect: Climate, Plant, and Community EPSCoR project.

Rob had the following to say about the upcoming year: ASPB has a unique set of tools to serve what I view to be our three main missions: (1) to train and nurture the next generation of professionals, (2) to set standards of scientific quality and integrity, and (3) to inform, communicate, and positively influence policy related to plant biology. After nearly 30 years of membership and service to ASPB, serving as president-elect has opened my eyes to the many ways in which ASPB addresses these goals.

What is in store for 2018–2019? I’m especially excited about the doubling of our well-established Ambassadors Program and fledgling Conviron Scholars Program. We will continue to strengthen our already stellar annual summer Plant Biology meeting in San Jose and Phenome meeting in Tucson and allow these to serve our diverse group of members and affiliates more fully. We will build on the increasingly robust Plantae digital ecosystem and make it visible—and thus useful—to more members of the community, with the support of our Plantae Fellows. We will recruit a new editor-in chief of The Plant Cell while celebrating the 30th anniversary of this stellar journal. Over the next year, I hope that each of you will find new ways in which you can be served by ASPB and will contribute to its vitality and continued evolution.

The Download from Plant Biology 2018

The Download from PB2018

Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis

In July, all things #TeamAutotroph were on center stage in Montreal for the joint meeting of ASPB, the Canadian Society of Plant Biologists (CSPB), and the International Society of Photosynthesis Research (ISPR). There, 1,629 attendees from 52 different countries gathered to enjoy more than 150 talks and almost 1,000 posters! The hardest part of the entire meeting was deciding which amazingly awesome thing to attend and which you had to miss.

Saturday July 14—Day 1

The first morning of the first day was already full of hard choices! There were four fantastic workshops overlapping with each other, all of which required early registration, so at least I had made this choice in advance. I attended the Primarily Undergraduate Institutions Workshop and found it to be extremely valuable. The discussion covered best practices for lab management and building a lab culture. We also learned about medicinal crops, pod shattering, flood resistance, and insect-resistant crops.

The day wrapped up with the ASPB President’s Symposium, “Translational Science,” and awards and concurrent symposia from ASPB and CSPB, followed by the opening reception. During the reception, we had a TweetUp at the Plantae Pavilion that was very well attended. It was great to see so many online colleagues make face-to-face connections.

Sunday July 15—Day 2

Day 2 started bright and early with the undergraduate poster presentations. It was truly inspiring to speak to the rising generation of plant scientists. They did a spectacular job of explaining their science and answering questions.

The CSPB President’s Symposium was on “Integrating Signals in Plant Cell Biology and Development.” Several workshops occurred over lunch, including reproducibility, NSF plant science funding, and science communication. The science communication luncheon was sponsored by the ASPB Minority Affairs Committee and featured Dr. Anna Skop, who shared her inspiring story of combining science and art.

The afternoon was filled with concurrent symposia ranging from biochemistry to education to abiotic stress. Conversation Circles and Roundtable discussions were ongoing in the main hall, opening up discussions on many different topics, including PlantingScience, women in plant biology, and journal publications.

The day ended with a poster session and reception, which featured what else but poutine! When in Quebec…

Monday July 16—Day 3

To start the third day, the CSPB/ASPB Joint Symposium “Opening Research Avenues Through New Technologies” brought the latest and greatest technologies to the forefront, including high-resolution phenotyping, genome editing, and more. Over the lunch hour(s), there was information on writing grants, reviewing articles, and incorporating research into classrooms, as well as the annual business meeting of ASPB’s Environmental and Ecological Plant Physiology section. If you have not heard of this new section, I highly recommend you search for it on Plantae!

Once again, the afternoon was filled with concurrent symposia. Concurrent symposia make me want to clone myself so that I can attend them all! Although cloning has not reached that point, Twitter has made it a lot easier. Thanks to a dozen or so live tweeters, the coverage from the sessions was good. I was able to attend the ones I was most interested in but still read the highlights of others. The power of Twitter for the win!

The evening wrapped up with another poster session and exhibit hall reception. With almost 1,000 posters being presented, there was no lack of interesting science to hear about!

Tuesday July 19—Day 4

Day 4 opened with concurrent symposia and ended with the ISPR/ASPB/CSPB Joint Symposium “Ecophysiology of Photosynthesis from the Leaf to the Global Scale.” I must admit I geeked out massively at this session. The speakers covered improvements in photosynthesis to maximize productivity, carbon dioxide changes across paleobotany, and regional and global controls and quantification of photosynthesis.

At #PlantBio18, we held our first annual Plant Biology 2018 Contest, Awards, and Celebration at the Plantae Pavilion, where the winners of the Pitch Your Science, best Selfie, best Plantae profile, and best conference tweet were announced. Thanks to all who participated!”

Best conference selfie:

Best conference tweet:

Best Pitch Your Science video:

The evening started with the ever-important Town Hall (formerly the Society’s business meeting). ASPB is looking for ways to improve the Plant Biology conference and the Society, so please write in and let your voice be heard. You can also go to Twitter and make suggestions using #ASPBForward.

After the Town Hall came the always-a-great-time closing party! This year it was on the roof of the Palais, giving everyone stunning vistas of downtown Montreal. Good food, music, and fun were had by all!

Wednesday July 20—Day 5

Wednesday was officially the last day of Plant Biology 2018. The Gibbs Medal Symposium, “Mechanisms of Genome Evolution,” covered genome evolution, from acquiring new genes from endosymbiosis to experimental genome evolution.

I cannot think of a better thought to leave you with about #PlantBio18

ASPB’s Primarily Undergraduate Institutions Section: Supporting Undergraduate Research

ASPB’s Primarily Undergraduate Institutions Section: Supporting Undergraduate Research

California State University, Long Beach

In an attempt to produce more linearized plasmid DNA, my student uses the last of the linearized plasmid DNA for a transformation. The next morning, there are no cells on the plate. Dejected, the student comes to me. Internally, part of me wants to giggle, but I control my outward reaction, draw a circular plasmid with its origin of replication, explain why the transformation did not work, and encourage the student to try again. The next morning, there are plenty of transformed cells, and linearized plasmid is soon in hand.

Why would a scientist decide to take a job with inexperienced young scientists who, on occasion, make silly mistakes? The group of scientists who work at primarily undergraduate institutions (PUIs) are dedicated to guiding scientists at the early stages of their careers to instill enthusiasm for discovery and research design. We bring undergraduates from a wide variety of backgrounds into our labs and contribute toward increasing diversity in the sciences. In recognition of our contributions to research and student development, ASPB approved the formation of a new PUI Section last fall.

PUIs range from small, private schools to large state-funded universities where students may have to work to support themselves. Many PUIs are minority-serving institutions. In each case, students are often introduced to a research career that many never knew existed. NSF defines PUIs as “accredited colleges or universities (including two-year community colleges) that award Associate’s degrees, Bachelor’s degrees, and/or Master’s degrees in NSF-supported fields, but have awarded 20 or fewer Ph.D./D.Sci. degrees in all NSF-supported fields during the combined previous two academic years” (

At a PUI, the focus is on educating and training the next generation for success in PhD programs and beyond. PUI faculty are research active, but their high-quality work often progresses more slowly than in an R1 institution. Most PUI faculty teach multiple courses each semester and bring research into their courses through primary literature and inquiry-based labs. At some schools, seniors may be required to perform a research project; however, at many institutions, first- or second-year students are encouraged to join research labs, and they can work on a project for three to four years, often culminating in poster presentations and publications.

Undergraduates at PUIs typically take ownership and must master nearly every aspect of their project rather than simply assist a PhD student or postdoc. PUI students present posters at local and national meetings and gain experience in articulating their work. In addition, many PUI students become coauthors on publications, learning how to produce publication-quality figures and helping write manuscripts. Students in a PUI research lab get a thorough, well-rounded research education that prepares them well for PhD programs and research careers.

The ASPB PUI Section is active and organized multiple events at Plant Biology 2018, including the annual PUI Workshop (which focused on research student mentoring), the PUI Section open business meeting, and an informal get-together Sunday evening. We are here for anyone who works with undergraduate research students, whether in the classroom or the lab. You can become a member of the PUI Section through the ASPB website ( In addition, we welcome you to join the PUI Section network on Plantae, form collaborations, and share best practices. The ASPB PUI Section brings PUI professors together and shares tools for all institutions with undergraduate researchers.

Plant Scientists Call for Renewed Focus on Empowerment of Trainees

Plant Scientists Call for Renewed Focus on Empowerment of Trainees
Preparing Graduate Students and Postdocs for Diverse Careers

Executive Coordinator, Plant Science Research Network

Changes in the workforce are challenging academia to prepare scientists to be adaptable and adept at communicating across boundaries. To meet these demands, the Plant Science Research Network (PSRN) is shifting the focus to enable trainees to take ownership of their training experiences.

Since President Lincoln established the land grant institutions to train generations of plant scientists, we have done exactly that using essentially a single model. However, in the past 40 years, plant science interpreted in its broadest terms has greatly matured, and recent generations of singularly trained students have struggled to adapt to the multifaceted core of what this science now entails. Recommendations in Reinventing Postgraduate Training in the Plant Sciences ( are sorely needed to position future plant scientists to adapt to the rapidly evolving landscape in both applied and fundamental plant biology along with their newly aligned disciplines.”
—Alan Jones, 2013–2014 ASPB president

Reinventing Postgraduate Training in the Plant Sciences: T-Training Defined Through Modularity, Customization, and Distributed Mentorship details the outcomes from two strategic planning workshops held in October 2016 and September 2017, which used the Imagining Science in 2035 scenarios ( to identify robust approaches to guide postgraduate training in the plant sciences over the next 20 years. Attendees of the first workshop consisted of industry scientists, academic faculty, and senior university administrators, whereas the second workshop featured early-career trainees.

The PSRN has done an excellent job outlining new ways for higher education to better facilitate a holistic approach to learning that reflects both public and private sector needs as we strive to meet the challenges of the future.”
—Michael Kantar, 2018–2019 AAAS Leshner Fellow and assistant professor, University of Hawaii at Manoa

Despite the demographic differences between the two sets of workshop attendees, both prioritized trainee empowerment as embodied in five key principles: (1) prioritization and support of diversity, inclusion, and trainee well-being; (2) guidance and resources to define and pursue career objectives; (3) flexible learning, unconstrained by boundaries; (4) disciplinary mastery achieved through research experiences; and (5) community engagement through science communication. The PSRN conceptualizes training as a network of combined and sequenced paths throughout one’s academic career in preparation for a variety of professional destinations.

Kudos to the PSRN for incorporating the ideas, insights, and advice from a wide variety of stakeholders in their remarkably easy-to-read document Reinventing Postgraduate Training. This forward-thinking road map charts the current and future educational needs of plant scientists.”
—Mary Crowe, 2012–2013 Council on Undergraduate Research president

To foster this cultural shift, the PSRN calls for a two-stage implementation process. In Phase 1, the immediate intent is to initiate pilot programs of new support mechanisms for trainees. Phase 2 will involve incentivizing the broad adoption of successful and impactful programs. Pilot programs were developed during the second workshop by the students and postdocs to address eight critical areas with room for improvement. The PSRN is actively looking for partners to test pilot programs related to diversity and inclusion, science communication, and academia–industry interactions.

“One thing I would like to see is finding ways in which pilot programs can be funded and tested and, if successful, seeing how the program can be implemented elsewhere.”
—Irene Liao, Duke University graduate student and workshop participant

Decreased funding levels for research and uncertain institutional support may impact trainee well-being.

“I now realize that the problems and shortcomings I felt associated with my program are systemic and by no means unique to my personal experience or university. Knowing this, I also now think that there is great opportunity for change and improvement in graduate training.”
—Andrea Carter, University of Arizona graduate student and workshop participant

Reinventing Postgraduate Training in the Plant Sciences was published online on August 6, 2018. Members of the community can read the report and leave comments on the Plantae community page at

To get involved or for further information, contact PSRN Executive Coordinator Natalie Henkhaus at The Plant Science Research Network receives funding from NSF award #IOS-1514765.

Call for Papers: The Plant Cell 30th Anniversary Collection

30th Anniversary Collection
Rethinking the Past and Shaping the Future of Plant Biology

Deadline for submission: June 30, 2019

In celebration of 30 years of publishing the best research in plant molecular, cellular, and developmental biology, we encourage authors to submit their most exciting new results for consideration for a special 30th Anniversary Collection on shaping the next 30 years of plant cell and developmental biology. The 30th Anniversary Collection will focus on the historic strengths of the journal, and articles in the area of molecular-mechanism directed cell and developmental biology are especially encouraged. This includes large-scale studies that demonstrate how genome-wide analyses can address fundamental questions of plant biology. We will be looking for ways in which these papers enlarge upon or change our concept of the molecular mechanisms underlying a biological process or phenomenon.

Submissions will be accepted from August 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019. All articles chosen that are published in 2019 will form part of the 30th Anniversary Collection. Just add a note to your cover letter that you wish to have the submission considered for the 30th Anniversary Collection. All articles accepted into the collection will receive open access free of charge and will be highlighted with an In Brief article and first author profiles.

The 30th Anniversary Collection will also include a series of commentaries on classic papers published in The Plant Cell that opened up new areas of investigation or otherwise had a major impact on their field. Looking to the future, we have also invited reviews on genome- and informatics-enabled emerging model organisms that broaden our understanding of fundamental processes in plants, from the subcellular level to the field and from seconds or minutes to evolutionary time scales.

Submit your best work to The Plant Cell and help shape the future of plant biology!

ASPB/AAAS 2019 Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellows Program

ASPB/AAAS 2019 Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellows Program

Are you interested in science writing?

Do you want to help people understand complex scientific issues?

Apply for the ASPB/AAAS Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellows Program and learn how to increase public understanding of science and technology. Fellows in the 10-week 2019 summer program will work as reporters, researchers, and production assistants in mass media organizations nationwide. Application window opens October 16, 2018, and closes January 15, 2019.

Visit for more details and to download an application brochure, or email for more information.

Phenome 2019

Save the Date!

Phenome 2019

February 6–10, Hotel El Conquistador Resort, Tucson, AZ

Where Are They Now?

Where Are They Now? Dennis Gonsalves

As the years churn on, many esteemed members of ASPB have passed the torch to their younger colleagues and stepped out of the limelight to allow others to bask in its glory. Yet, many continue their good works to the benefit of plant biology and the world. Edited by Rebecca Dickstein, University of North Texas, “Where Are They Now?” is part of the ASPB News suite of columns focused on the personal and scientific life and insights of ASPB members at all stages of their career. This column offers a look into the current activities of influential members of ASPB who continue to make a positive mark on our Society. We hope you all enjoy this addition to your newsletter.

Please feel free to submit your own article to “Luminaries,” “Membership Corner,” or “Where Are They Now?” For details, contact Jill Deikman, Membership Committee chair, at As always, we are open to suggestions for articles or features of interest to readers of the ASPB News.

Dennis Gonsalves

Emeritus Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor, Cornell University

In the editor’s invitation to write this article, she wrote, “As never before, it is vital to make young biologists aware of wide horizons.” I pondered those words and decided to reflect on how transgenic papaya work widened my horizons.

I was born and raised in Kohala, Hawaii, in one of the rural sugar plantation camps that dotted Hawaii when sugar was still king. After receiving my BS in horticulture in 1965, I was very fortunate that Dr. Eduardo Trujillo gave me a chance to pursue an MS in plant pathology at the University of Hawaii and Dr. Robert Shepherd the opportunity for a PhD studentship at the University of California, Davis. Words from Dr. Trujillo—“Dennis, don’t just be a test tube scientist; do something to help people”—and Dr. Shepherd—“Dennis, now what have you really accomplished?”—would help shape my research philosophy. I worked at the University of Florida from 1972 to 1977 and then at Cornell University at the Geneva campus from 1977 to 2002, and then I went back “home” to direct the USDA research center in Hilo, Hawaii, until I retired at the end of 2012.

The Papaya Story, and Widening My Horizon

I began research on papaya in 1977 to develop a method of controlling papaya ringspot virus (PRSV) in Hawaii, where papaya is an important crop. Proactive research was needed, since PRSV, which is rapidly spread by aphids, was already in Hilo town only 19 miles away from the Puna district where 95% of the industry’s papaya was grown. My laboratory first deployed cross protection (i.e., inoculate plants with a mild strain of PRSV to protect against effects of the severe strain), but the approach was not satisfactory. A lesson learned: “Know when to abandon a strategy that is not working.”

In 1985, we initiated research to develop PRSV-resistant transgenic papaya using the pathogen-derived resistance approach (i.e., use a transgene from the pathogen to make transgenic plants resistant to the pathogen). Being a classical plant virologist, I had to widen my horizon into molecular biology. The research team included Jerry Slightom, a molecular biologist at Upjohn, and from the University of Hawaii Richard Manshardt, Maureen Fitch, and Steve Ferreira, with expertise in horticulture, tissue culture, and plant pathology, respectively. Briefly, the coat protein gene of a PRSV strain from Hawaii was transferred into calli of the commercial Hawaiian solo papaya Sunset and recovered transgenic R0 lines screened for PRSV resistance. Fortunately, in 1991, R0 cloned plants of transgenic Line 55-1 were resistant to PRSV under greenhouse conditions.

Going for the Jugular

Instead of doing crosses and then examining R1 plants, we elected to go for the jugular by testing the resistance of cloned R0 plants of Line 55-1 under natural field conditions. We had to widen our horizon and apply for permits to field-test regulated transgenic plants, which in those days was an area that was mostly the purview of large companies. A field trial was started on Oahu Island in April 1992.

As fate would have it, PRSV was discovered in the Puna district on Hawaii Island in May 1992. By 1994, PRSV was widespread in Puna. Results from the field trial confirmed the resistance of R0 Line 55-1, and Richard Manshardt self-pollinated progenies of Line 55-1 to create the SunUp cultivar, which was homozygous for the coat protein gene, and Rainbow, which is an R1 hybrid from a cross between SunUp and the nontransgenic Kapoho papaya. SunUp and Rainbow showed PRSV resistance and excellent horticultural qualities in a subsequent field trial in Puna that was started in 1995. However, the accomplishments were still academic because the transgenic SunUp and Rainbow were regulated and thus not available to farmers. In the meantime, the papaya industry was being devastated by PRSV.

Translational Biotechnology

We had to translate our research so it would help the growers. We thus widened our horizon into deregulation of GMOs; we did additional experiments and wrote and submitted applications to successfully have Line 55-1 and its derivatives deregulated by the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service and the Environmental Protection Agency and completed consultation with the Food and Drug Administration. In addition, the papaya industry got the necessary intellectual property rights to commercialize the cultivars.

Seeds of SunUp and Rainbow were released free to farmers in May 1998, six years after PRSV entered Puna. The industry was saved from PRSV. Twenty years later, the transgenic papaya accounts for about 85% of Hawaii’s papaya. Because the product was developed by public-sector scientists, one might say it was a “poor man’s” transgenic project.

Some Reflections

What did I learn from the papaya work? I learned to be the eternal optimist, to get out of my comfort zone and widen my horizon to get the job done. The philosophy I learned early on—“Dennis, don’t just be a test tube scientist; do something to help people” and “Dennis, now what have you really accomplished?”—rang true, especially in the red zone of translational biotechnology.

In May 2002, after 25 glorious years at Cornell University, I widened my last horizon and returned home to Hawaii as director of the USDA Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center in Hilo, Hawaii, to direct, to lead the building of a new physical facility, and to carry on a research program. I retired from USDA at the end of 2012.

What am I doing now? Golfing with my friends from Kohala, teaching ukulele to senior citizens, recording songs my wife Carol and I have sung over the years, and simply enjoying the slow life.


I decided that 2017 would be the last year I would present talks at scientific meetings. I was honored to speak at the Minority Affairs Committee luncheon held at the ASPB annual meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii, where I reflected on the scientific journey of this Hawaiian plantation boy. My last slide showed a rainbow over which was inscribed, “Dreams can come true. So dream!” Music is one of the best ways to communicate, even in science. So I concluded my talk singing with Carol the version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” made famous by the late Hawaiian singer Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole.

To my fellow plant biologists, I say, “Imua-Aloha,” which in Hawaiian means “move forward with love.”

Science Policy

Policy Update

Policy Update

Lewis-Burke Associates, LLC

Farm Bill Update

At the time of this writing, both the House and the Senate had passed their versions of the 2018 Farm Bill and had agreed to conference before the September 30 deadline. As the process continues, ASPB will remain engaged with lawmakers to advocate for our research agenda.

National Academies Release Science Breakthroughs to Advance Food and Agricultural Research by 2030

On July 18, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released Science Breakthroughs to Advance Food and Agricultural Research by 2030, a consensus report that identifies five science breakthroughs and provides recommendations for agricultural research for the next decade. The impetus for the study, which launched in spring 2017, was to provide a short-term research strategy for the most challenging issues in food and agriculture. The report is modeled on decadal surveys used by the space research community to generate consensus for strategic research priorities. Although human nutrition and obesity are acknowledged as major challenges, these topics were not included in the report because they are included in the National Nutrition Research Roadmap 2016‒2021 (

Breakthroughs identifies three major goals for food and agricultural research over the next decade: “improving the efficiency of food and agricultural systems, increasing the sustainability of agriculture, and increasing the resiliency of agricultural systems to adapt to rapid changes and extreme conditions.” The goals of efficiency, sustainability, and resiliency broadly respond to the myriad of key research challenges facing the U.S. agricultural community, ranging from “increasing nutrient use efficiency in crop production” to “reducing food loss and waste throughout the supply chain.”

The report indicates that the urgency and gravity of these agricultural challenges require a convergent research approach. This emphasis on convergent research reflects a burgeoning federal research trend. Convergence is one of the NSF’s 10 Big Ideas, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture launched a new Sustainable Agricultural Systems program that focused on a convergent approach.

The following excerpts provide a brief synopsis of the five breakthroughs and corresponding recommendations:

  1. “A systems approach to understand the nature of interactions among the different elements of the food and agricultural system can be leveraged to increase overall system efficiency, resilience, and sustainability.” The report recommends that “transdisciplinary science and systems approaches should be prioritized to solve agriculture’s most vexing problems.”
  2. “The development and validation of precise, accurate, field-deployable sensors and biosensors will enable rapid detection and monitoring capabilities across various food and agricultural disciplines.” To facilitate this, the report recommends that the government “create an initiative to more effectively employ existing sensing technologies and to develop new sensing technologies across all areas of food and agriculture.”
  3. “The application and integration of data sciences, software tools, and systems models will enable advanced analytics for managing the food and agricultural system.” The report recommends creating “initiatives to nurture the emerging area of agri-food informatics and to facilitate the adoption and development of information technology, data science, and artificial intelligence in food and agricultural research.”
  4. “The ability to carry out routine gene editing of agriculturally important organisms will allow for precise and rapid improvement of traits important for productivity and quality.” The recommendation is to establish “an initiative to exploit the use of genomics and precision breeding to genetically improve traits of agriculturally important organisms.”
  5. “Understanding the relevance of the microbiome to agriculture and harnessing this knowledge will improve crop production, transform feed efficiency, and increase resilience to stress and disease.” To access these future outcomes, the committee recommends that the government “establish an initiative to increase the understanding of the animal, soil, and plant microbiomes and their broader applications across the food system.”

In addition to the five research breakthroughs, the report details further considerations necessary to successfully address agricultural challenges. These conclusions acknowledge a lack of major federal investments in agricultural infrastructure, including tools and human capital, as well as inadequate investments in public and private research. Continued and robust support for existing assets, such as the Agricultural Experiment Station network and the Cooperative Extension Service, is emphasized.

The report laments major shortcomings in both the education and scientific workforce and stresses the need to encourage the next generation of students and professionals to seek out careers in agricultural research. Further collaboration between the biophysical and socioeconomic sciences is also cited as necessary for effective policy design and producer and consumer acceptance of innovation in agricultural research and industry.

Sources and Additional Information

Kelvin Droegemeier Nominated to Lead OSTP

At the end of July, the White House announced the nomination of meteorologist and extreme-weather specialist Kelvin Droegemeier to lead the Office of Science and Technology Policy. The position, which advises the administration and coordinates federal science and technology policy, has been vacant for a record 560 days. Although many of Trump’s nominees have been highly controversial, Droegemeier’s nomination has received support from a broad swath of the scientific community.

Droegemeier is currently vice president for research at the University of Oklahoma. Previously, he served two consecutive terms on the National Science Board under the Bush and Obama administrations. Although many in the scientific community are encouraged by the nomination, it remains unclear whether, if confirmed, Droegemeier will be able to influence the administration’s approach to environmental issues, including climate change, and federal research funding.

Trump Nominates Scott Hutchins as USDA’s Undersecretary of Research, Education, and Economics

The Trump administration nominated Scott H. Hutchins to serve as the Undersecretary of Agriculture for Research, Education, and Economics. In this role, Hutchins would oversee the USDA’s research portfolio. Hutchins, former president of the Entomological Society of America, currently works in industry at Corteva Agriscience, the agriculture division of DowDuPont that was created after the corporations merged. Hutchins also serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Nebraska. Hutchins is the third executive from Dow Chemical to be nominated to USDA by the Trump administration.

With a PhD in entomology from Iowa State University, Hutchins has a scientific background, unlike Sam Clovis, the administration’s initial pick for the position, who was a former campaign adviser and radio talk show host. Clovis withdrew his nomination in November 2017 after intense opposition.

Sources and Additional Information

Council for Agricultural Science and Technology Hosts Briefing on Genome Editing

On July 9, the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology released its “Genome Editing in Agriculture: Methods, Applications, and Governance” issue paper, which is part of a larger series entitled “The Need for Agricultural Innovation to Sustainably Feed the World by 2050.” Authored by seven researchers from a broad range of professional and academic disciplines, the paper briefly touches on the science of gene editing and provides an overview of current technology (e.g., CRISPR-Cas9).

In addition to providing context to the science behind gene editing, Adam Bogdanove, chair of the task force and professor of plant pathology at Cornell University, discussed the regulatory environment that surrounds the space. He noted that for the most part, U.S. regulations for gene editing are largely in limbo, still relying on the 1986 Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology, which has not been updated to reflect the newest advances in agricultural research.

Because of the broad range of stakeholders involved in authoring the paper, it does not make any concrete recommendations on implementation or regulation of gene editing, but instead offers different considerations for governance, including processes or methods, product characteristics, traceability of the edits, and off-target effects. The paper also acknowledges that public opinion plays a powerful role in the governance of new technology and concludes that deployment of this technology would be most successful if it was governed by science-informed and value-attentive regulation that promotes innovation and transparency.

Source and Additional Information

NSF Shares New Information About Its Future Support of Plant Science Research

NSF Shares New Information About Its Future Support of Plant Science Research

ASPB Legislative and Public Affairs Director

For more than a year, rumors have swirled regarding the future of the NSF Plant Genome Research Program (PGRP). The program was funded at over $90 million in fiscal year 2017 and has been the single largest program in the NSF Biological Sciences Directorate (BIO). Launched in 1988 with the support of former Senator Kit Bond (R-MO), academic researchers, commodity groups, and others, PGRP has arguably been one of NSF’s most successful programs.

Because fundamental plant genomics sits at the nexus of human and animal genomics, ag biotechnology, crop improvement, bioinformatics, and plant ecology, the investments of PGRP have nurtured a uniquely convergent space. This space has served as a launch pad for a number of start-ups, including Grassroots BioTechnology (acquired by Monsanto in 2013), Data2Bio, Calyxt, Benson Hill Biosystems, and Epicrop Technologies.

Given its track record of success, the community was distraught to hear of possible shifts in NSF’s support of plant science. ASPB’s presidential leadership, Science Policy Committee, Lewis-Burke Associates (government relations contractor), and staff sprang into action and immediately began engaging NSF about PGRP.

On June 25, 2017, the then-current and past 14 presidents of ASPB wrote to NSF to voice their vigorous support of PGRP. The letter described the crucial and fundamental role of the program in enabling the work of USDA and DOE with regard to using big data; developing computational resources; and directly impacting food security, economic growth, and conservation. In response, NSF provided general assurances of their continued support of PGRP and plant science.

Despite these assurances, the rumors persisted. Over the course of several meetings with ASPB, NSF agreed to participate in a session at Plant Biology 2018. On behalf of NSF, the acting deputy division director of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS) Irwin Forseth (joined remotely), science adviser Dianne Okamura, and IOS program directors Gerald Schoenknecht and Anne Sylvester (joined remotely) participated in a discussion led by Irwin. It was shared that NSF BIO was planning to reduce PGRP funding by approximately 46% to accommodate new initiatives, some of which would include opportunities for plant science.

The new initiatives discussed span the agency, directorate, and division organizational levels. At the agency level, Irwin said the 10 Big Ideas, a set of long-term research priorities for future investment, are being launched. Before the announcement of the 10 Big Ideas, among them to understand the rules of life, BIO had conceived of its own rules of life initiative, known as Origins of Life. The goal of Origins of Life is to understand plausible pathways for life’s origin. Irwin discussed the IOS program Enabling Discovery Through Genomic Tools (EDGE) program, which he described as being modeled after PGRP. The EDGE program supports the development of genomic resources for model systems that are not currently genome enabled.

Irwin went on to share that a revised version of the PGRP solicitation was currently under review. The new solicitation is expected to continue to cover the same types of proposals that are currently being funded by PGRP. However, he did say that new budget constraints “could reduce the number and nature of awards.” When pressed to elaborate on this point, Irwin specified that multi-PI and larger-scale proposals could be impacted.

ASPB will continue efforts to prevent reductions in PGRP funding and to provide a platform for NSF to constructively engage the plant science community on the future of plant science at NSF.

Education Forum

Transforming Education in Plant Biology (TEPB) Request for Proposals 2019

Transforming Education in Plant Biology (TEPB)
Request for Proposals 2019

Deadline for applications: October 31, 2018 (11:59 p.m. ET)

In the United States, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Science Foundation, and other stakeholders have called for transformation in undergraduate biology education via the Vision and Change report ( The core message of the Vision and Change initiative is a focus on student-centered learning with students as active participants. Some of the key features of this initiative are ensuring that courses are outcome oriented, inquiry driven, and relevant; providing research experiences for all students; using multiple forms of instruction; and giving students ongoing, frequent, and diverse types of feedback.

ASPB has developed the Transforming Education in Plant Biology (TEPB) program to help put these recommendations into practice via development of new instructional materials in plant biology aligned with the ASPB core concepts in plant biology ( TEPB is particularly well suited to faculty who are planning to build or revise courses or curricula in order to incorporate evidence-based methods of teaching and learning.

TEPB has three parts:

First, the program provides financial support for awardees to participate in focused, substantive, and practical professional development. Awardees either select from one of the multiday professional development opportunities listed below or propose a different program that fits with the recommendations of Vision and Change.

Second, following the professional development experience, awardees submit a report describing the instructional materials they plan to create. The instructional materials must be directly related to plant biology.

Third, within the following year, awardees develop the educational materials and then submit these materials to the ASPB Education Committee. By accepting TEPB funds, awardees agree to allow dissemination of their educational materials using Plantae or other channels. Awardees should include funds in their budget to defray costs associated with attending the annual ASPB meeting to present their work product. Awardees may be invited to participate in the ASPB Education & Outreach Booth.

Financial support: TEPB awardees will receive up to $4,500 (reimbursable or direct pay to the program) for registration and travel to the professional development program and to the ASPB annual meeting.

View the RFP and apply by October 31, 2018:

Plant BLOOME 2018 Winners

Plant BLOOME 2018 Winners

ASPB established the Plant Biology Learning Objectives, Outreach Materials, & Education (Plant BLOOME) grant program with the goal to enhance public awareness and understanding of the essential roles of plants in all areas of life ( Congratulations to the 2018 ASPB Plant BLOOME grant recipients!

Widely Accessible Virtual Reality Exhibits and Workshops for Plant Biology Education

Lead PI: Larry Blanton
North Carolina State University

The NC State Plant BLOOME team consists of Larry Blanton, professor of plant biology, who will be responsible for project oversight, content, reporting, and assessment; Colin Keenan, a recent graduate from the master’s program, who conceived of the project and will be responsible for coding, training, and site development; and Adam Rogers, head of the NC State Library’s Making and Innovation Studio, who will provide expert technology support and be our liaison to the broader resources of the NC State libraries. The project benefits greatly from the extensive technology available to us through the library’s virtual reality studio.

This project arose from Colin’s nonthesis master’s project, which involved 3D scanning of bulky herbarium specimens (seeds and fruits). As Colin thought about disseminating those scans to a broader world through virtual reality (VR), he realized that broader scope VR experiences would be even more stimulating. Our goal is to create two experiences, one on a smaller scale focused on the chloroplast and the other a larger scale “park” of a variety of exhibits. These will be freely available for online access on any web-browsing device but will also support the VR experience provided by the HTC Vive headset and Oculus Rift system.

In addition to creating these experiences, the team will conduct “Basics of Virtual Reality for Plant Biologists” workshops, two on the NC State campus, one at the Southern Section ASPB meeting, and one at the national ASPB meeting. These will provide an introduction to digital specimen representation and display and strategies for incorporating VR as a means to present data or develop curriculum elements. We hope to learn valuable lessons not only about the application of VR technology itself, but also concerning valid means of assessing the effectiveness of the experiences.

Closing the Gap: Engaging the Public with Citizen Science Phenology Data

Lead PI: Jessica Savage
University of Minnesota Duluth

For many people, including myself, fascination with plants began in our backyards because plants serve an important role in our understanding of where we are and how the world is changing. It is for this reason that there is a growing population of the public engaged in monitoring phenology in their “backyards” and an increasing number of citizen science programs focused on compiling phenology data in online databases. Despite the importance of these connections between plant biologists and the public, many citizen science programs rely on unidirectional communication, such as collecting data for a researcher or educating about phenology.

The goal of our project is to take the next step in this relationship and create a program in which the public is involved in the scientific process from beginning to end. We want to empower citizen scientists to explore their own questions. We plan to facilitate two-way interactions in which researchers and educators provide training in plant biology and plant phenology and citizens participate in experimental design, data collection, and exploration of their own data. Along with creating public displays and running two workshops for educators, we will design openly available curriculum for educators and the general public that will guide learners in visualizing and understanding phenology data from their local community. This is a collaborative project by Erin O’Connell, a graduate student; Ryan Hueffmeier, the program director at Boulder Lake Environmental Center; and Jessica Savage, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

We are excited about this project because it addresses a growing need to take citizen science to the next level, not only involving the public in data collection but also allowing them to become researchers. We hope this program can serve as a model for place-based learning about plant biology in other regions.

Using the Green Microalga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii (“Green Yeast”) for K–16 Biology Education

Lead PI: Mautusi Mitra
University of West Georgia

Chlamydomonas reinhardtii (“green yeast”) is a unicellular green microalga that retains many features of green plants and of the common ancestor of plants and animals, although its lineage diverged from land plants over one billion years ago. It is a model for studying photosynthesis and elucidating eukaryotic flagella and basal body structure and functions. More recently, Chlamydomonas research has been developed for bioremediation purposes and generation of biofuels and has led to breakthroughs in optogenetics.

Currently, the few teaching tools available from the Chlamy­domonas Resource Center (CRC) barely scratch the surface of what could be taught using Chlamydomonas to K–16 biology students. My project aims to develop Chlamydomonas into a powerful and popular teaching tool that will complement existing plant science teaching strategies.

The ASPB Plant BLOOME award and the support I have received from the CRC will help me design 10 new inexpensive, hands-on Chlamydomonas-based activities for K–16 biology education. These activities will be incorporated into biology classes in nine schools and two local universities in Georgia and used to teach a new upper-level “green” molecular lab course at the University of West Georgia (UWG). The project will target approximately 1,250 students. The new lab activities will be disseminated via ASPB, Plantae, CRC, and my UWG research laboratory websites, as well as at the ASPB and National Association of Biology Teachers meetings. We will share with the west Georgia community how “pond scum” is used by plant biologists, neuroscientists, and medical and renewable energy researchers via the free Wolf Science Cafe events in Carrollton, Georgia.

Ninety percent of biology students want to pursue careers in medical and allied health fields, and they seldom appreciate plant biology in their curriculum because they are not shown the intra- and interdisciplinary nature of 21st-century biological science. This award will help make students more appreciative of plants and demonstrate to them the intra- and interdisciplinary nature of plant biology. Above all, I am super excited about the Plant BLOOME award because it will help make Chlamydomonas a “rock star” to plant biology educators.

Master Educator Program 2018 Winner

Master Educator Program 2018 Winner

ASPB’s Master Educator Program (MEP) offers financial support to successful applicants to participate in focused, substantive, and practical professional development with the aim of creating undergraduate plant biology instructional materials aligned with the recommendations of Vision and Change and ASPB’s core concepts in plant biology ( Congratulations to the 2018 winner, Dong Wang, assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Massachusetts.

“I will use the MEP funds to develop and showcase an undergraduate laboratory course that allows students to engage in authentic research experiences.  These pedagogical approach, course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs) will teach students to apply their conceptual understanding of biology with newly acquired laboratory skills to conduct original research that leads to new scientific insights. I plan to direct student research on plant genes important for the symbiosis with nitrogen-fixing bacteria.  The MEP will allow me to expand the scope of my research on the nitrogen-fixing symbiosis and efficiently integrate it with my undergraduate teaching.”

ASPB Education & Outreach Booth at Plant Biology 2018

ASPB Education & Outreach Booth at Plant Biology 2018

ASPB Education Coordinator

At Plant Biology 2018, the ASPB Education & Outreach booth featured a variety of resources for visitors, with multiple booth guests sharing helpful teaching tools and outreach activities.

Long-time Education Committee member Scott Woody made it across the Canadian border with his FPsc (fast plants, self-compatible) and genetic resources to share with conference attendees. FPsc is a self-compatible and extensively inbred analog of the familiar Wisconsin Fast Plants variety of rapid-cycling Brassica rapa. Working with Rick Amasino and students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Scott has created an integrated suite of genetic and molecular/genomic materials useful to help students make a clear connection between organismal phenotype and underlying, DNA sequence–based genotype.

Education Committee member Susan Bush (Trinity College) and Education Committee chair Sarah Wyatt (Ohio University) collaborated to share about conducting polymerase chain reaction (PCR)–based labs in the classroom. Using PCR machines and gel rigs from MiniOne, they ran a genotyping experiment on red and white onions based on a paper coauthored by Sarah (Briju & Wyatt, 2015). Focusing on onion genes associated with anthocyanin production, they amplified DNA from the red onions but could observe deletions through failed PCR in some of the white onion genes. This is a really neat project that lets students provide their own samples for class, and using the MiniOne gel system allows students to visualize the PCR bands using their phones. Visitors were also able to enter a raffle to win a micropipette set that MiniOne generously provided.

Booth visitors also were able to view a raspberry pi demo shared by Malia Gehan, principal investigator at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. They learned about how these low-cost microcomputers might be used for different applications in the lab.

CourseSource, an open-access journal of peer-reviewed teaching resources for undergraduate biological sciences, also was present at the Education & Outreach booth. CourseSource provides authors with the opportunity to publish teaching materials in a high-quality format that documents their scholarly teaching efforts, accomplishments, and innovations. A key feature of CourseSource is the alignment of articles with learning goals and objectives developed by scientific professional societies. Senior editorial assistant Erin Vinson (University of Maine) was on site to answer visitors’ questions about publishing in CourseSource and to introduce the journal to those unfamiliar with it.

In collaboration with the Canadian Society of Plant Biologists’ education committee, Let’s Talk Science shared their outreach efforts at the booth. Let’s Talk Science is a Canadian community-based program connecting educators and youth with volunteers to deliver a wide variety of meaningful STEM activities for children age 3 through grade 12. Let’s Talk Science demonstrated some of the outreach activities they bring to their classroom and community outreach visits. The enthusiastic volunteers pass their passion for STEM on to Canada’s future citizens and take outreach requests from community groups, libraries, summer camps, after-school programs, and community festivals.

In addition to T-shirts for sale, coloring books, and the 12 Principles of Plant Biology bookmarks, a new element at the ASPB booth this year was the Conversation Circle feature. The Conversation Circles provided a space for prescheduled informal meet ups for visitors to learn more about various topics. Four education and outreach Conversation Circles were held: “All About Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF),” “PlantingScience,” “ASPB Education and Outreach Activities,” and “All About CourseSource.

Briju, B. J. and Wyatt, S. E. (2015). Grocery store genetics: A PCR-based genetics lab that links genotype to phenotype. American Biology Teacher 77: 211–214.

Education Concurrent Symposium at Plant Biology 2018

Education Concurrent Symposium at Plant Biology 2018

BY ERIN J. FRIEDMAN, University of Lynchburg
ESTELLE HRABAK, University of New Hampshire

The education concurrent symposium attracted a wide array of scientists committed to the importance of educating students and the public about topics in plant biology. Each speaker presented a creative way to generate knowledge and excitement about scientific discovery either to students in the classroom or to the public via various outreach projects. Many of the presentations generated thoughtful questions about how best to adapt the presenters’ ideas to specific situations as the attendees and speakers alike shared their passion for education through lively discussion.

Plant Science in the Classroom

When taking genetics lab courses, students often explore Mendelian inheritance using fruit flies. Scott Woody (University of Wisconsin–Madison) presented a set of self-compatible rapid-cycling Brassica rapa fast plants ( that can easily be used in the laboratory classroom. One obvious benefit of this collection is the easily scorable set of mutant phenotypes that have been created. Scott described several examples of how these plants can be used to teach core concepts in genetics, including mapping projects that could be completed by undergraduates and even high school students through the use of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) based molecular markers. Several inquiry-based activities using these plants were described, and many attendees visited the ASPB Education & Outreach booth to see these plants for themselves and participate in demonstrations of related activities.

If you were asked to generate a list of expert geneticists, how much diversity would your list include? Jennifer Robison (Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis) sought to expose the students in her undergraduate genetics course to the contributions of scientists from a wide range of backgrounds. When asked to create a list of scientists from memory, the students initially recalled names that were predominantly male, and none of the scientists was from an underrepresented group. Students were then randomly assigned to research and write content about a scientist from a group that spanned diverse cultural backgrounds and identities. Following the intervention, Robison again asked students to list as many scientists as they could remember and measured increases in the number of women and underrepresented minorities, as well as in total names. This intervention had the added benefit of making students aware of scientist role models who look like themselves. Variations on this activity could be added to virtually any course.

Nicholas Ruppel (Randolph–Macon College) described a project to knock out Arabidopsis genes using CRISPR/Cas9 in an undergraduate genetics course. The goal was to create new alleles of genes such as werewolf, too many mouths, and glabrous1, which have seedling or juvenile-stage phenotypes that are well documented in the scientific literature. To fit the experiment into a 13-week semester, students transform adult plants with a premade CRISPR plasmid construct in the first class so there is time to score second-generation transformants before the semester ends. While first- and second-generation plants are growing, students do background reading to become familiar with the phenotypes of existing mutants of the genes of interest and use The Arabidopsis Information Resource database ( to analyze gene structure. PCR is used to genotype plants. This exercise is a relatively quick way to give students some hands-on experience with applications of CRISPR in plants.

Course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs) are becoming a popular way to engage students in authentic research experiences within the confines of a traditional laboratory course. Alenka Hlousek-Radojcic (University of Delaware) described several aspects of a CURE based on the biology of bonsai plants. Students are given time to hone experimental skills such as microscopy and measurement of transpiration rates. They are then guided through the development of an independent question. The module also requires students to work in teams, a critical aspect of scientific inquiry.

Plant Science Outreach

While at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Jessica Lucas was part of an NIH-funded team whose goal is to better prepare underserved community college students for the transition to four-year universities. Jessica described an eight-week immersive summer research experience for students interested in the biomedical sciences focused on analysis of Arabidopsis seed coat mucilage mutants because this specialized extracellular matrix is easy to visualize with ruthenium red. The program emphasized experimental design, quantitative reasoning, use of available online resources, scientific communication skills, and collaboration skills. Students reported increased interest in earning an advanced degree in the biological sciences after completing the program.

Anne Sternberger (Ohio University) presented the DNA Detective module, which is targeted to students in grades 6–12. This activity uses the publicly available DNA Subway website ( to analyze one of several “mystery” plant DNA sequences. Once students identify their particular gene, they investigate its known mutant phenotypes and are then presented with a variety of live mutant plants to observe. All students successfully matched their gene name to the corresponding mutant plant, indicating that they understood the connection between genotype and phenotype.

One Year After SURFing: Students Reflect and Share What’s Next

One Year After SURFing: Students Reflect and Share What’s Next

The ASPB Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program funds promising undergraduate students so they can conduct research in plant biology during the early part of their college career. SURF recipients present their research at ASPB’s annual Plant Biology meeting in the year following the fellowship award. Two 2017 SURF recipients shared how their undergraduate research experience influenced what is next for their future.

Christopher Imler

Encountering an undergraduate with research experience isn’t terribly common. In those four years, an active student is pulled in so many directions (course work, part-time employment, clubs, internships, and so forth) that allocating time and energy to do research can be difficult. It came as no surprise to me, then, that when I finally sent out my applications for graduate school, most of the responses were focused on my experiences in the lab. The questions I received focused particularly on my participation in ASPB’s SURF program. Being in the program not only made me a competitive grad school candidate; it also solidified my decision to pursue an advanced degree in the first place.

A significant hurdle involved in undergraduate research seems to be getting enough contact time with faculty to execute a supervised project. Being part of the SURF program allowed me to focus all my attention on my research and get the most out of my interactions with my mentor. This ultimately translated to a more complete research product, in-depth training, and a meaningful immersion in the research topic. These aspects of my participation in SURF were what potential advisers were attracted to when they received my application.

My work in SURF wasn’t my first research experience, but it was the first time I was ever put in the driver’s seat. The building, learning, troubleshooting, and analyzing I engaged in stand out as among the most formative set of challenges I’ve ever tackled. Before my fellowship, there was always an air of mystery about the research process that I couldn’t quite dispel. It was going through these challenges that gave me the confidence to apply to grad school.

In its most basic interpretation, this fellowship is a great funding opportunity. To a motivated student with limited resources, however, it can be the difference between reaching for an advanced degree or not. As I begin my journey as a master’s student in horticulture at Iowa State University, I know full well that SURFing is what got me here.

Lauren Pope

It has been a year since the end of my ASPB SURF experience. Looking back on last summer, I realize just how different my life is today because of the fellowship. I am a more engaged and technically skilled scientist and a more prepared incoming graduate student because of SURF. I learned so many important skills that I will use for the duration of my career.

Working on a project over the summer gave me the chance to focus on the research while classes were not in session. I became familiar with the literature related to my project and took ownership of the scientific process. I learned new techniques that helped me address my research question in interesting ways. I learned how to work with other lab members, as well as how to have a good working relationship with a PI. There’s no doubt that completing a summer fellowship during undergraduate studies is a formative experience.

My SURF project is what truly solidified that graduate school was the right option for me. I became passionate about the topic I was studying, and it led to my interest in a career in plant science research. After completing my SURF, I applied to several graduate schools and attended many interview weekends. ASPB’s SURF prepared me for those graduate school interviews. I was asked about my SURF project heavily by potential PIs, and knowing the details of my research from spending a whole summer working on my project helped me be confident in those interviews. Graduate schools seemed very interested in the fellowship and what I learned from the experience. I will begin my PhD studies in biology at Stanford University in the fall. In graduate school, I look forward to building on foundational skills that were seeded by ASPB’s SURF.

One of the most notable parts of being a SURFer is attending a Plant Biology meeting. Not all undergraduates get the chance to experience a big meeting like Plant Biology, and it was such a privilege to have that opportunity. I was able to network with plant scientists from all over to learn more about the field and what types of research are going on. I now keep up with these connections on Twitter and LinkedIn, both of which have become forms of scientific communication platforms. Finally, I connected with other undergraduates who are doing plant research. I met several SURFers who I consider lifelong colleagues and friends! These are only a few ways that attending the annual meeting gives undergraduates a chance to “plug in” to the field of plant science and engage with it in a new way. This program is so much more than a summer research project, and I encourage any undergraduates who want a research experience to apply this upcoming year.

For students and mentors interested in the SURF program, more information can be found at Applications for the 2019 awards will be accepted beginning December 1, 2018.

Plant Biology 2018—Let’s Do Science: Incorporating Research into the Classroom

Plant Biology 2018
Let’s Do Science: Incorporating Research into the Classroom

Ohio University

Students learn better when they are actively engaged in course material. For the sciences, this translates into involving them in original research experiences. Research experiences for undergraduates in our research labs are a valuable opportunity for all concerned, but these spaces are limited. We may all acknowledge that providing research experiences for all majors (and possibly nonmajors) in science classes should be a goal, but large class sections and limited resources restrict access.

During the 2018 education workshop “Incorporating Research into the Classroom,” ASPB and the Canadian Society of Plant Biologists shared the venue to provide examples of and inspiration for incorporating original research experiences into biology classes, both large and small, serving freshmen to seniors. Stan Roux (University of Texas at Austin) and Georgette Briggs (University of the West Indies) shared tried-and-tested techniques and projects they have developed and used successfully in the classroom.

Stan shared experience gained over 30 years of having students do research in a senior-level Discovery Lab. Students have done simple experiments to address unanswered questions highlighted in the plant physiology course he taught (e.g., do Ca2+-channel blockers reverse growth-promoting effects of cytokinin in Lemna [duckweed]?) or, more recently, unanswered questions in his own grant-funded projects on gravitational biology and effects of eATP on plant growth and development. Students work in pairs to carry out four rounds of experiments per semester, each concluding with oral and written reports.

Stan suggested several keys to his success. First, the lab experiments students carry out are truly novel. In addition, the experiments require only techniques that students can readily learn and that allow for repetition and refinement. The course professor cannot predict the outcome of the experiments but can convince students that any credible outcome will be novel and significant. Finally, the course professor is genuinely interested in learning the results. The Discovery Lab has been so effective that the University of Texas has incorporated it into freshman-level biology offerings.

Georgette shared the experiences of the Department of Life Sciences at the University of the West Indies in St. Augustine, Trinidad, with their reconceptualized approach to undergraduate research experiences across various biology disciplines. Shifting from an apprenticeship-focused to a course-based research model allowed them to ensure that a higher percentage of graduating students had a meaningful experience of performing scientific research outside the confines of predetermined lab exercises. Themed research projects in principal investigators’ areas of expertise allow students to address scientific issues and challenges in their unique local environments while simultaneously advancing the departmental research agenda. Student responses indicate that this approach is proving a success. The department also has seen an increase in undergraduate-involved scientific publications and in undergraduate students transitioning into postgraduate programs.

It is clear through the presentations of Stan and Georgette that when educators are able to incorporate original research experiences into biology classes, students are able to learn better and are more actively engaged in the course material. These ideas are ones that we can and should implement in the classroom when able.