ASPB News
July/August 2018

Volume 45, Issue 4

Contents

Presidents Letter—Feeding the World: Reasons for Optimism

President’s Letter

Feeding the World: Reasons for Optimism

BY HARRY KLEE
University of Florida

Having recently spent time in our nation’s capital asking for support for increased plant science research funding, I’ve been thinking about how we feed the world. Everywhere I turn, I see dire predictions about our ability to keep up with population growth. But the more I think about the issues we face, the more optimistic about the future I become. It’s a very exciting time to be a plant biologist.

feeding the worldTo frame my thinking, let’s start with some historical perspective: back to Thomas Malthus, who in 1798 published An Essay on the Principle of Population. He postulated that whereas populations increase geometrically, food supply increases only arithmetically. The obvious conclusion was that widespread famine was inevitable. Fast-forward a couple of centuries to Paul Ehrlich and his 1968 book The Population Bomb, which famously predicted that we had already lost the war: “In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate.” Oops.

Actually, we’re doing a pretty good job of producing enough food. World Health Organization data say the percentage of children with stunted growth in the world has actually dropped, from 32.7% in 2000 to 22.9% in 2016 (UNICEF/WHO/World Bank Group, 2017). Most of those children reside in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. There are certainly distribution problems. But the simple fact is that we do produce enough food. So how did these guys get it so wrong?

It is in this context that I read an article in the March 2018 issue of The Atlantic by Charles Mann, “Can Planet Earth Feed 10 Billion People?” Although I found the article to be infuriating in many regards, it forced me to think about the issue. This is the best kind of writing to me. I totally disagreed with many of his oversimplified arguments, but I had to justify my own conclusions.

Mann’s narrative centers on two contrasting philosophies, the people who feel that the sky is falling and those who feel that technology will always find ways to solve problems. Although these extreme classifications seem far too arbitrary to me, there probably is an element of truth in our polarized Internet-accessible society, where pundits encourage an us-versus-them mentality.

In his essay, Mann explores how these two extreme camps approach the problem of feeding the world. One group feels technology has ruined the world—that we are beyond the carrying capacity of the planet and are heading toward catastrophe, just as Malthus and Ehrlich predicted. Our only hope, they say, is to abandon agriculture as we know it. Everything has to be organic and “sustainable.” We have used all the arable land; we’re running out of water; we’re polluting our waters with nitrogen runoff. As people become more affluent, their diets will shift to resource-intensive meats. As we compete for limited quantities of foods, conflicts will increase. It’s a disaster! There are many problems with that philosophy, not the least of which is that if we actually reverted to no-chemical-input agriculture, millions of people are going to starve, and they aren’t going to be the people in the developed world.

Now let’s look at the other extreme. Technology, the other group believes, can be harnessed to feed 10 billion people. The naysayers have been wrong for two centuries, and you’d think they would have learned the error of their ways by now. Although I do not completely accept this view, it is far closer to reality.

Let’s look at the facts. The United States produces more food than it consumes, with an ever-decreasing percentage of our population involved in agriculture. Per acre yields of staple crops such as corn continue to steadily rise, as they have for the past century. Many of the gains have come from improved genetics. But many have also come from improved technology and precision agriculture. There’s a reason that a major point of emphasis in the next Farm Bill is funding for rural high-speed Internet: Farmers use technology undreamed of even a decade ago. The modern American farmer knows his or her land intimately and, enabled by GPS, can supply micro- and macronutrients with amazing precision. Density of planting is far greater today, and fertilizer can be applied in precise strips that dramatically reduce runoff pollution. Herbicide-resistant varieties facilitate no-till agriculture, reducing loss of topsoil. And best of all, this technology has not yet been adopted in large parts of the world. I’ve had the opportunity to visit rural China, where farmers still use horses to till their fields. Imagine the potential when they begin to adopt modern agricultural practices and advanced hybrid seeds.

But what really excites me is what we can do with molecular biology. The safest prediction I can make is that we don’t even know what the next great breakthrough in plant biology is going to be. Assuming that governments make reasonable investments in agricultural research (and this is a big assumption), I am confident that we can discover how to make plants more tolerant of abiotic stresses such as drought and high salt. With perseverance and maybe a little luck, we can turn C3 into C4 plants. Engineering nitrogen fixation and increasing nitrogen uptake are not crazy goals. In my lifetime we have had two green revolutions, the first facilitated by Norman Borlaug and the second by introduction of genetically engineered plants.

Here’s another startling fact for you to digest: The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (2011) has determined that fully one-third of harvested food worldwide is lost to spoilage. Although the causes of these losses are myriad, this pool of lost food represents a huge opportunity. Improvements to the entire postharvest chain can have a huge impact on food availability without growing another plant.

Coming back to the two extreme worldviews, there is a middle ground, and this is where I think Mann (2018) missed an opportunity. The pessimists are entirely justified in pointing out many of the issues associated with modern industrial agriculture. Technology is not, by itself, the answer. We should listen to the pessimists, pick their best ideas, and then go back to the lab and fix those problems. Yes, there are dead zones in the oceans as a result of nitrogen runoff. Precision application and release of fertilizers can go a long way to solving that problem. So can development of plants that more efficiently fix or take up nitrogen. Yes, there most likely is utility in exploiting the microbiome. However, much more research is needed before we understand how to best exploit plant–microbe interactions. Yes, the use of herbicide-resistant crops has resulted in the spread of resistant weeds, and we do need to manage that resistance appropriately.

But the pessimists should also listen to us technologists. “Sustainable” does not equal “organic.” Sustainability is achieved by looking at the entire system and using the best available tools to most efficiently produce the food we need. Genetic engineering targeted for organic production is a “natural” fit. The irony of not permitting plants expressing Bacillus thuringiensis insecticidal proteins while permitting application of the bacterium carrying the identical protein would make Kafka smile. The anti-GE movement is about money, not logic. The time has come for the world to acknowledge that after 25 years of GE crops incorporated into billions of meals, not a single adverse human health effect has ever been documented. Not one. Period. Much as in our nation’s capital, we would all be better off if there was dialogue and a middle ground.

So overall, I am incredibly optimistic that we will find ways to effectively feed our growing population. We simply must. Conflicts are based mostly on fights for resources. World peace is grounded in food security. Of course I’m concerned about research funding. And, in sharp contrast to biomedical science as a whole, I’m concerned that not enough young people are choosing careers in plant science. The next generation of scientists has a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to sustain the momentum. They should be excited about the possibilities to make a difference. I have utter confidence that we can continue to improve the way we grow food and prove Malthus and Ehrlich wrong for another 200 years.

I’d be even more confident if our society was less polarized. Science has answers. But science needs a conscience to keep us focused on how best to achieve the goals of the entire planet. Cutting-edge research is just that—research. We need to constantly improve and correct mistakes as we identify them. Let’s bury the notion that science and technology are bad for the Earth. Instead, let’s strive for an enlightened and sustainable future in which science and technology combined with wisdom meet the needs of all people and disarm the population bomb for good.

References

Ehrlich, P. (1968). The population bomb. New York: Sierra Club/Ballantine Books.

Food and Agriculture Organization. (2011). Global food losses and food waste: Extent, causes and prevention. https://tinyurl.com/6ttw4ja.

Mann, C. C. (2018, March). Can Planet Earth feed 10 billion people? The Atlantic. https://tinyurl.com/y7twfqnj.

UNICEF/WHO/World Bank Group. (2017). Joint child malnutrition estimates–2017 edition. https://tinyurl.com/yaqor97c.

ASPB Mid-Atlantic Section and University of Maryland Plant Biology Symposium Joint Meeting

ASPB Mid-Atlantic Section and University of Maryland Plant Biology Symposium Joint Meeting

BY MARK HOLLAND
Salisbury University

The Mid-Atlantic Section of ASPB held its annual research meeting May 22–23, 2018, in conjunction with the University of Maryland Annual Spring Plant Biology Symposium. The joint meeting was held on the University of Maryland, College Park, campus.

The two-day meeting featured seven sessions of oral presentations on a wide range of topics, including a general session, growth and development, plant–insect and plant–pathogen interactions, the phytobiome, microbes associated with fresh produce, and genomics-assisted plant improvement. Each session featured invited speakers from around the region and short talks selected from submitted poster abstracts. Cash awards of $200 were given for the best talk and for the best poster at undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral levels. The meeting was capped off by a keynote address from Eduard Akhunov (Kansas State University), who spoke on “Dissecting the Genomic Architecture of Wheat Stem Rust Pathosystem.”

Attendance was strong, with 112 registrants and 54 submitted abstracts. The organizing committee of the meeting wanted to keep the meeting truly regional and inclusive, especially of students at all levels. We were gratified to see that more than half of the meeting attendees were students. Feedback or questions about this meeting and suggestions for future meetings are welcomed by the organizers and can be directed to Mark Holland, Mid-Atlantic Section chair, at maholland@salisbury.edu.

Correction

In the May/June issue of the ASPB News, the 2018 ASPB awards announcement incorrectly listed Neil Olszewski’s contributions. The corrected version appears below.

Fellow of ASPB

Neil Olszewski
University of Minnesota

Neil Olszewski has made significant contributions to our understanding of the regulation of plant development. In a screen for genes that negatively regulate gibberellin responses, his research group discovered SPINDLY. SPINDLY encodes an enzyme that posttranslationally glycosylates nuclear and cytosolic proteins. His lab went on to publish a series of papers identifying roles of SPINDLY in multiple developmental and physiological processes including cytokinin signaling and the circadian clock. In service to ASPB, Neil was a member and is now chair of the Publications Committee. As chair of this committee, he was instrumental in the recent launch of Plant Direct, a sound science journal copublished by ASPB, the Society for Experimental Biology, and Wiley.

People

2019 Barbara McClintock Prize Awarded to Detlef Weigel

2019 Barbara McClintock Prize Awarded to Detlef Weigel

Detlef WeigelThe Maize Genetics Executive Committee announced that Detlef Weigel is the 2019 recipient of the Barbara McClintock Prize for Plant Genetics and Genome Studies. The annual prize is awarded to the most outstanding plant geneticists of the day. The prize was created to memorialize the extraordinary contributions of Barbara McClintock, the 1982 winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and the first woman to win the prize unshared.

Since 2001, Detlef has been the director and a scientific member at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, Tübingen, Germany. He also holds adjunct appointments at the Salk Institute and the University of Tübingen. His lab has studied the genetic mechanism controlling developmental decisions in plant and animals, phenotypic variation in natural populations, and genetic incompatibility. He is particularly known for his work on flower development.

Detlef, an ASPB member since 1990, is the 2001 recipient of the ASPB Charles Albert Shull Award and has subsequently served on the Shull Award Committee. From 1996–2005, Detlef was a coeditor of The Plant Cell. He is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Please join us in congratulating Detlef.

Luminaries

Eric Schaller

Welcome to the ASPB News “Luminaries” column. Student and postdoc members are invited to submit their ideas for a 500- to 750-word interview they might like to conduct with a prominent scientist. Contact Membership Committee Chair Jill Deikman at jill.deikman@monsanto.com, who will help you develop some questions to frame your story. If we publish your interview, you will receive a $50 Amazon gift card.

Eric Schaller

Professor, Department of Biological Sciences at Dartmouth College, and Principal Investigator of the Phytohormone Signaling Laboratory

BY ASHRAF MOHAMMAD ARIF
ASPB Graduate Student Ambassador, Iwate University

Eric SchallerEric Schaller is professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Dartmouth College and principal investigator of the Phytohormone Signaling Laboratory (https://www.dartmouth.edu/~psl/). He received his BS in biochemistry from Michigan State University. He did his PhD in molecular biology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and worked with Mike Sussman on proton-pumping ATPases and calcium-dependent protein kinases of plants. During his postdoctoral research, he worked with Tony Bleecker at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, studying ethylene receptors and receptor-like protein kinases in Arabidopsis.

Eric first established his own laboratory at the University of New Hampshire in 1996 and moved to Dartmouth College in 2003. His lab works on the plant hormones ethylene and cytokinin, exploring their fundamental role in plant growth and development and environmental stimuli. His research has contributed tremendously to the understanding of the ethylene and cytokinin signaling pathways.

Unlike most academics, Eric is renowned for activities outside his research. He writes short stories, columns, and critiques about science fiction. He published his first short story collection, Meet Me in the Middle of the Air, in 2016. His recent story “Red Hood,” which was inspired in part by a scientific study that used phylogenetic approaches to trace the evolutionary history of Little Red Riding Hood, is free online and can also be listened to as a podcast (http://www.nightmare-magazine.com/fiction/red-hood/).

What is your story on how you got interested in plant biology, and who influenced your scientific thinking early in your career?

My father is a wildlife biologist, so I grew up around scientists. I even kept a small scientific notebook when I was seven and we lived in the Serengeti. My father would take us out in the Land Rover, and I would fill my notebook’s pages with drawings of lions and zebras. I became fascinated with the inner workings of cells in high school and knew then that molecular biology was the direction I wanted to explore. I eventually made the decision to focus on plant biology toward the end of my undergraduate studies at Michigan State after having worked in labs studying cancer in mouse and chicken models. Plants are just as fascinating as animals, but I have no moral qualms about chopping plants to pieces or treating them with debilitating quantities of mutagens.

My PhD and postdoc mentors at the University of Wisconsin—Mike Sussman and Tony Bleecker, respectively—played critical roles in my scientific development as a plant molecular biologist. Both Mike and Tony exhibited an inspirational love for the ideas and process of science and were fearless in its pursuit. For my initial rotation project in Mike’s lab, he pointed out a used solid-phase protein sequencer he had just obtained, handed me an instruction manual, and asked, “Can you get this working?” Tony loved a good argument, whether deliberating the relative merits of the Beatles compared with Elvis Presley or, over a spaghetti lunch at the local Italian restaurant, debating hypotheses derived from our latest experiments.

What scientific discoveries of the past couple of years have influenced your research directions?
Much of science is driven by evolving technologies that either suggest new directions or allow you to accomplish tasks previously contemplated but out of reach. Not surprisingly, the CRISPR-Cas9 approach to genome editing has had the most striking influence on our research, for example by accelerating our ability to make higher-order mutant combinations. The ever-increasing power and decreasing price of next-generation sequencing technologies also prompts us to constantly reevaluate what is possible, whether it be sequencing plant populations or, at the other extreme, a species with a genome so large it once seemed out of reach.

What inspires you to continue in science?

Part of what I love about molecular biology is its science fictional aspect. We are explorers with a mission to uncover the rules that govern a biological microverse, and I still derive enormous satisfaction from those small eureka moments found in that scientific quest. The other thing that continues to provide inspiration is scientific collaboration. In this respect I’m happy, and probably a bit lucky, to have long-term collaborations with people I count as great friends: Joe Kieber at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brad Binder at University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Samina Shakeel at Quaid-i-Azam University, Pakistan.

You also write fiction. When and how did you become interested in fiction writing?

As a kid, I would sometimes make up stories to tell my younger brother after my mom had finished her bedtime stories for us, but I was always involved in various art and writing projects, and I continued to explore these as I grew older. Eventually I started submitting pieces for publication. I focus on short stories, and even though I don’t produce many, there have been some significant milestones along the way. One of these was the first time I had a story chosen for a Year’s Best anthology; coincidentally, I received word of this by e-mail while I was visiting Dartmouth and being interviewed for my current faculty position. More recently, it was having my short story collection Meet Me in the Middle of the Air come out, and then receiving positive reviews. One positive outcome of my fiction writing is that it enables me to engage with audiences less frequently encountered by academics, but who are often quite interested in science. As a result, I’ve written columns and critiques about the science of science fiction and given talks on such topics as the genetics of monsters.

What was the most difficult stage of your career?

That would probably have been about midway through my postdoc. A postdoc is one of the most joyful of times because your experimental skills are at a peak, but it can also be stressful because it will launch the next stage of your career. I had a solid publication record, but I wasn’t sure where my background could take me and was considering the many possible branching paths for the future. That changed after I found that 14C-ethylene bound to the ETR1 protein of Arabidopsis, establishing it as an ethylene receptor—one of those eureka moments I mentioned above, and a big one. I still remember the excitement in phoning Tony that night after I got the first readings off the scintillation counter.

As an employer, what are the key qualities you look for in a potential team member?

A critical mind, applied to your own results as well as to what has come before in the field; a solid work ethic; and a passion for science, such that the questions you study pursue you into your dreams.

What advice would you give to a student interested in plant biology today?

The past few decades have been a golden age for plant biology, and I see no end in sight for what we can accomplish. That being said, it’s easy to become enraptured by the details of our own projects, but the questions we’re addressing, and their answers, have to matter to other people. We need to be able to explain the significance of our studies, and to do so in terms that communicate to nonscientists as well as scientists. This is increasingly important with science being under attack from various quarters, whether about GMOs, climate change, or vaccinations. In that light, when considering yourself as an advocate for plant biology, it’s also important to remember that many voices raised in unison are more powerful than any single voice. Organizations such as ASPB represent the community of plant biologists, and by working with them, your voice is amplified.

Science Policy

Policy Update

Policy Update

BY LAUREN BROCCOLI
Lewis-Burke Associates, LLC

Federal FY2019 Appropriations Process Under Way

Earlier this month, Congress commenced the annual federal appropriations process for fiscal year (FY) 2019, which begins October 1. Constrained by a shortened legislative calendar due to the midterm elections, appropriators have announced aggressive timelines to consider all 12 spending bills over the summer.

The House Appropriations Committee has approved the following FY2019 appropriations bills: Agriculture; Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS); and Energy and Water, largely along party lines. Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved both the Energy and Water and Agriculture appropriations bills with nearly unanimous support from the committee.

House and Senate leadership have indicated interest in avoiding combining all 12 bills into one large omnibus package for FY2019 and instead will attempt to bundle bills together in a series of “minibuses” that would be considered by each chamber.

The following are topline numbers from House and Senate FY2019 bills of interest to ASPB:

House FY2019 Appropriations Bills

  • Agriculture: The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) would receive $1.46 billion, a 2.7% increase over the FY2018 enacted level of $1.34 billion. ARS would receive $1.394 billion, an increase of $51.3 million compared with the FY2018 enacted level, and the bill would reject the proposed closure of 20 ARS labs. The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) would receive $415 million, a $15 million increase over the FY2018 enacted level of $400 million and $40 million above the president’s budget request.
  • Energy and Water: Basic Energy Sciences (BES) would receive $2.1 billion, a $39 million or 1.9% increase from the FY2018 enacted level. Unlike past years, the Biological and Environmental Research (BER) program was not targeted for cuts in the House and would be funded at the FY2018 enacted level of $673 million. Advanced Research Program Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) would receive $325 million, a $28.3 million cut compared with FY2018.
  • Commerce, Justice, and Science: NSF would receive $8.17 billion, which is $407.5 million or 5.2% above the FY2018 enacted level and $702.9 million above the president’s FY2019 budget request.
    • The House CJS report provided explicit language on the Plant Genome Research Program (PGRP): “The Committee finds that NSF’s PGRP has been successful at advancing research into crop-based genomics and phenomics that address challenging economic and societal questions and directs NSF to continue to fund the PGRP program and continue to focus the program on research related to crops of economic importance.”

Senate FY2019 Appropriations Bills

  • Agriculture: NIFA would be funded at $1.42 billion, a 1.1% or $15.4 million increase compared with FY2018. AFRI would receive $405 million, a $5 million increase above the FY2018 level. ARS would receive $1.3 billion, which is $42.4 million below the FY2018 enacted level, and the bill would reject the proposed closure of 20 ARS labs.
  • Energy and Water: BER would receive $715 million, or 6.2% above FY2018. ARPA-E would receive $375 million, an increase of $21.7 million compared with the FY2018 enacted level, in sharp contrast to the president’s budget request that proposes eliminating the agency. BES would receive $2.19 billion, which is $103 million or 4.9% above the FY2018 enacted level.

Sources and Additional Information

USDA Names Acting Director of NIFA

On April 20, USDA acting deputy undersecretary for Research, Education, and Economics Chavonda Jacobs-Young announced that Thomas Shanower would replace outgoing NIFA director Sonny Ramaswamy in an acting capacity. Shanower is currently ARS associate area director for the Pacific Northwest and was formerly director of the ARS Center for Grain and Animal Health Research. Shanower has a PhD in entomology and has extensive international experience, including with the Peace Corps.

The position was established in the 2008 Farm Bill and is a six-year presidential appointment that does not require Senate confirmation. It is unclear when a permanent NIFA director will be announced.

Source and Additional Information

2018 Farm Bill Update

On May 18, the House of Representatives voted on H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (Farm Bill), which ultimately failed by a vote of 198–213, with all Democrats voting against the measure because of provisions related to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The bill also failed to garner the full support of the Republican caucus.

The House was expected to reconsider and vote on the bill again in June. The Senate had not yet released its version of the legislation, although it was anticipated in early June.

The Farm Bill authorizes federal agriculture and nutrition programs every five years, including USDA research. If Congress does not make progress on a 2018 Farm Bill, lawmakers would likely pass an extension of the 2014 version until they can come to agreement on a new Farm Bill.

Key provisions from the research title in H.R. 2 include the following:

  • Reauthorize the AFRI at $700 million per year, the current authorization level, through FY2023
  • Remove the AFRI matching funds requirement for non–land grant institutions
  • Not reauthorize mandatory funding for the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, which was created in the 2014 Farm Bill
  • Increase indirect costs for agriculture research, extension, and education from 22% to 30%, applied to both the initial grant award and any subgrant
  • Authorize $5 million in discretionary funding for competitive research equipment grants through FY2023 (with a maximum award of $500,000) for any college, university, or state cooperative institution (this program was not included in the 2014 Farm Bill but has previously been authorized)
  • Authorize the Genome to Phenome Initiative at $30 million per year in discretionary funding through FY2023
  • Fully fund the Specialty Crops Research Initiative through FY2023
  • Increase mandatory funding for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative to $30 million per year through FY2023.

Additionally, Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) introduced an amendment that was approved and would require USDA to submit a report to Congress on the federal government’s policies and procedures related to gene editing and precision plant breeding, with the intent to foster plant breeding innovation.

Sources and Additional Information

NIFA Releases AFRI FY2018 RFAs

NIFA has released the following FY2018 AFRI requests for applica­tions (RFAs): Sustainable Agricultural Systems (SAS), Education and Workforce Develop­ment (EWD), and Foundational and Applied Sciences.

Released in April, the EWD program, formerly the Food, Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Human Sciences Education and Literacy Initiative, will provide $24.1 million for agricultural education, extension, and training activities. The objective of the FY2018 EWD program is to proactively address anticipated shortages of qualified graduates to enter the agriculture, food, and natural resource sectors of the workforce. To advance this objective, EWD will support the following activities:

  • Enhance agricultural literacy through Professional Develop­ment for Secondary School Teachers and Educa­tional Professionals (PD-STEP)
  • Develop pathways for undergraduates to learn the requisite skills to join the agricultural workforce through Research and Extension Experiences for Undergraduates (REEU)
  • Advance science through support for graduate and postgraduate students through predoctoral and postdoctoral fellowships.

Application deadlines vary by activity. PD-STEP applications are due July 11, 2018; REEU applications are due June 28, 2018; and all fellowship applications are due July 29, 2018.

The SAS program is a new initiative that was originally previewed in the FY2018 budget request. Replacing the AFRI Challenge Grants, SAS will support sustainable Coordinated Agricultural Project grants of up to $10 million each that “focus on approaches that promote transformational changes in the U.S. food and agriculture system within the next 25 years.” Proposals require a “systems approach . . . that will significantly improve the supply of abundant, affordable, safe, nutritious, and accessible food, while providing sustainable opportunities for expansion of the bioeconomy through novel animal, crop, and forest products and supporting technologies. These approaches must demonstrate current and future social, behavioral, economic, health, and environmental impacts.” This RFA will fund integrated projects that include research, education, and extension components. Letters of intent are due June 27, 2018, and the deadline for full proposals is October 10, 2018.

The Foundational and Applied Science program will distribute approximately $182 million to support research, extension, or integrated proposals related to the six AFRI priority areas that include plant health and production and plant products. The RFA incorporates the Food and Agriculture Cyberinformatics and Tools initiative, launched by NIFA in 2016 to support data science in agriculture. The RFA also has an increased emphasis on microbiome research, including a new program area priority, “Agricultural Microbiomes in Plant Systems and Natural Resources,” under the Plant Health; Production and Plant Products; and Bioenergy, Natural Resources, and Environment program areas. Due dates and funding amounts vary by subject and focus area. For complete application and deadline information, contact Tyrone Spady or view the RFAs at the links below.

Sources and Additional Information

ASPB Leads Organization of Congres­sional Agricultural Research Event

ASPB Leads Organization of Congres­sional Agricultural Research Event

BY TYRONE SPADY
ASPB Legislative and Public Affairs Director

Mon-Ray ShaoAfter the success of last year’s inaugural Agri­cultural Research Exhibi­tion and Reception, an ag science fair for Congress, the 2018 event was held on June 6. ASPB again partnered with the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Coalition, the National Coalition for Food and Agricultural Research, and the Supporters of Agricultural Research Foundation (ASPB is a member organization of each) and the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities to provide a platform to cultivate congressional champions, highlight the value of USDA-supported ag science, and provide a local face for ag research. Representing ASPB at the event was Donald Danforth Plant Science Center postdoctoral researcher Mon-Ray Shao, who works with Chris Topp on root architecture.

The event was sponsored by the Congressional Agriculture Research Caucus, founded and cochaired by Reps. Rodney Davis (R-IL) and Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), and generously supported by the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Seed Trade Association, and the Charles Valentine Riley Memorial Foundation. Seven members of Congress attended the event:

Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA), ranking member, House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Develop­ment, Food and Drug Admin­istration, and Related Agencies

Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA), ranking member, House Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture

Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL), chair, House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research

Rep. Roger Marshall (R-KS), member, House Agriculture Committee

Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), member, House Agriculture Committee

Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA), chair, House Agriculture Subcommittee on Forestry, Conservation, and Energy

Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL), member, House Agriculture Committee.

In addition, more than 200 congressional staffers, ag research advocates, industry representatives, researchers, educators, extension professionals, and USDA staff participated. Representing all four USDA Research, Education, and Economics (REE) agencies, the following agency heads also attended:

Chavonda Jacobs-Young, acting USDA chief scientist, acting deputy undersecretary for REE, and current administrator of ARS

Hubert Hamer, administrator, National Agricultural Statistics Service

Tom Shanower, acting director, National Institute of Food and Agriculture

Mary Bohman, administrator, Economic Research Service.

Education Forum

Announcing the 2018 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows (SURF)

Announcing the 2018 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows (SURF)

The ASPB Summer Under­graduate Research Fellows (SURF) program funds promising undergraduate students so they can conduct research in plant biology during the early part of their college career over the course of 10 consecutive weeks. This year’s SURF recipients will present their research at Plant Biology 2019. SURF recipients possess strong motivation and skills for conducting research, career objectives showing interest in plant biology, and high academic achievement. In addition to these qualities, reviewers consider the mentor’s commitment to undergraduate research, institutional commitment to the proposed research, and the contribution of the project to the mentor’s research program.

Proposals are evaluated on the basis of whether research will be conducted at a primarily undergraduate institution or a doctoral granting institution. Awards reflect the ratio of applicants in each group. Congratulations to these 2018 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows and their mentors!

SURFers from Doctoral Granting Institutions

Anastasiya AndriyashAnastasiya Andriyash, University of New Mexico
Project: Determining the Role of Myosin XI in the Gravitropic Response of Maize
Mentor: Michelle Facette, Assistant Professor
I am very grateful to my mentor and ASPB to have received one of this year’s SURF awards. I look forward to a summer of research, as it will greatly prepare me for graduate school and a career in research through the invaluable skills and experiences I will gain throughout this project. This opportunity allows me to strengthen my foundation in plant biology, and I look forward to sharing my research and experience at the 2019 Plant Biology meeting.

Daniel BerkovichDaniel Berkovich, Washington University in St. Louis
Project: A Biochemical Investigation of Aspartate Aminotransferases in Plants
Mentor: Joseph Jez, Professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor
I am very honored to receive the ASPB SURF award. Not only will this program help strengthen my research abilities, it will also foster my connection to the scientific community and contribute to the development of my academic and career interests. Most of all, I am thrilled to receive this award because it lets me continue my passion for conducting plant research.

David BerriosDavid Berrios, University of California, Davis
Project: Characterization of Novel Sesquiterpene Synthases and Their Role in Plant Stress Tolerance in Setaria italica
Mentor: Philipp Zerbe, Assistant Professor
I am honored and most grateful to be an ASPB SURF recipient. The SURF award will allow me to immerse myself in a rewarding research project, present my work on a grand stage, and become part of a network of brilliant scientists. ASPB’s investment in my professional development will prepare me for graduate school and beyond, empowering me to become a greater researcher and plant biologist. In the future, I intend to give back and be an advocate for science and higher education, inspiring others just as ASPB has inspired me.

Bridget BicknerBridget Bickner, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Project: Determining the Location of Cis-Regulated Mutations in Flower Color Coding Genes in Phlox drummondii
Mentor: Robin Hopkins, Assistant Professor
I’m incredibly excited to have the opportunity to work with Dr. Hopkins and her lab at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston this summer. Participating in the ASPB SURF program will provide me with a strong foundation for building relationships with fellow plant biologists and for a future in evolutionary biology research.

Edward CruzEdward Cruz, University of Nevada, Reno
Project: Identifying Substrates of a Putative Protein O-fucosyltransferase That Is Critical for Successful Pollen Tube Penetration in Arabidopsis thaliana
Mentor: Ian Wallace, Assistant Professor
The ASPB SURF award will provide me with a mechanism to continue developing my skills as a research scientist while also gaining exposure to the research and scientific community at other academic institutions. My long-term ambition is to earn a graduate degree in plant biochemistry and pursue an academic career in the plant sciences, which will allow me to continue pursuing my research passions as an academic researcher, but additionally will allow me to encourage other young, underrepresented minority students to consider a scientific endeavor.

Marlo HallMarlo Hall, University of California, San Diego
Project: Regulation of Stress-Induced Anthocyanin Production by a Transcription Factor Complex
Mentor: Alisa Huffaker, Assistant Professor
I am extremely thankful to ASPB for awarding me the SURF grant and to my mentor for her help and continual support. This fellowship will allow me to delve deeper into my project investigating the effects of a transcription factor complex on stress-induced anthocyanin production in Arabidopsis. I am very excited to spend the summer performing research, to present the findings at Plant Biology 2019, and to continue my career in plant biology!

Laura JanousekLaura Janousek, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign
Project: Quantification of WRKY1 Alternative Splicing in Arabidopsis thaliana to Explore Phenotypic Plasticity
Mentor: Amy Marshall-Colon, Assistant Professor
The SURF award will give me a wonderful opportunity to explore phenotypic plasticity through a quantification of an alternative splicing event. I am grateful and excited for the ability to increase my lab experience as I start to apply for graduate programs. Being able to attend and present my research at Plant Biology 2019 will allow me to talk to and learn from leaders in my area of research, which will be invaluable as I continue to grow as a plant biologist.

Grace JohnstonGrace Johnston, Colorado State University
Project: A Genetic Screen to Identify Cytokinin-Mediated Processes That Regulate the Growth–Defense Tradeoff
Mentor: Cris Argueso, Assistant Professor
It is an honor to receive the SURF award. I look forward to working full time in the Argueso lab at Colorado State University this summer and managing my own project. This is a wonderful opportunity that will allow me to develop my skills as a scientist and work toward my future in a scientific career.

Cassandra ProctorCassandra Proctor, Cornell University
Project: Investigating the Role of Replication Factor C-Like Genes During Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Symbiosis
Mentor: Maria Harrison, Professor
I am grateful to ASBP for this opportunity to continue working with my mentor and the rest of the Harrison lab over the summer of 2018. The SURF award will allow me to carry on researching arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis, but with the extra responsibility of running my own project. I am excited to begin this next step in my journey toward a research career in plant sciences.

Jenny SwintonJenny Swinton, Oklahoma State University
Project: Genes for Controlling Epidermal Cell Number in Arabidopsis
Mentor: Ming Yang, Professor
I am so thankful for the opportunity to continue my research as a recipient of the ASPB SURF award. This experience will allow me to dive deeper into my own project, as well as the scientific literature and the scientific community around me. In addition, furthering my understanding of plant genetics through this award will significantly prepare me for graduate school.

Xuening ZhangXuening Zhang, University of California, Berkeley
Project: A Critical Window for Protection? Investigating the Importance of Timing of Exposure to Microbiome-Mediated Protection
Mentor: Britt Koskella, Assistant Professor
I am very grateful for the opportunity the ASPB SURF grant will provide me to explore fascinating questions about plant–microbe interactions. The fellowship allows me to take full leadership in an independent project building on my preliminary results from a year-long project on seed-associated microbiome. The SURF award will facilitate an extremely meaningful step forward in my research career.

SURFers from Primarily Undergraduate Institutions

Roshani BudhathokiRoshani Budhathoki, Eastern Connecticut State University
Project: Characterization of Novel Chicken Foot Nodule (cfn) Mutant Defective in Root Architecture and Symbiotic Nitrogen Fixation in the Model Legume Plant Medicago truncatula
Mentor: Vijaykumar Veerappan, Assistant Professor
I am grateful to ASPB and my mentor. Applying for a SURF award has introduced me to the exciting opportunities offered by the world of research. I am looking forward to discovering the genes responsible for defective symbiotic nitrogen in Medicago truncatula. This fellowship is a chance for me to gain more research experience, learn new techniques, and build a competitive application for graduate programs. I will be privileged to present my discovery in the field of symbiotic nitrogen fixation at the ASPB annual meeting in 2019.

Rachael PrawitzRachael Prawitz, Missouri Western State University
Project: The Role of Isoprene in Plant Development
Mentor: Csengele Barta, Assistant Professor
I am extremely grateful to ASPB for selecting my proposal and supporting my research. Having the opportunity to experience writing the grant, taking on a leadership role in a research project in my mentor’s laboratory, being part of the broader plant science community, and presenting my results at the 2019 Plant Biology meeting have been and will be invaluable experiences for my academic career. The award will allow me to focus on relevant and interesting research questions. Completing the project and presenting the results will prepare me for a future career in science. I thank ASPB and my mentor for their support and this great opportunity.

Antonio SerranoAntonio Serrano, Northern New Mexico College
Project: Characterization of APA Events and Gene Expression Profile in the tcab Arabidopsis Mutant
Mentor: Mario Izaguirre-Sierra, Assistant Professor, and Laura de Lorenzo, Postdoctoral Researcher
I am very grateful to ASPB for granting me the opportunity to fully focus my energy and time on plant biology research this summer. The ASPB SURF award will give me the ability to sharpen my skills as an undergraduate scientist. I’m excited to work on my project and learn new methods, approaches, and techniques. My goal is to pursue a PhD, and the beneficial experience I gain will make me a more competitive candidate for graduate programs. I cannot express how thankful I am!