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Presentation Abstracts

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Dr. Geoffrey Morris

Yes, you might save the world: Goal-directed hypothesis-driven science for climate resilient agriculture


Climate change is already disrupting food security and agricultural prosperity worldwide, and is expected to worsen. At the same, plant breeding, one of society's most important defenses against climate disruption, is being enhanced with new technologies in genomics, phenomics, modeling, and gene editing. Can plant breeding keep up with the need for climate resilient agriculture? Experience in recent decades suggests it can be surprisingly difficult to translate exciting new scientific discoveries into widely-adopted varieties in farmers' fields. In some cases, it seems there has been confusion among stakeholders about what the goals were. In other cases, it seems that the hypotheses underlying the goals were not tested as rigorously as was needed. In this seminar, I'll present a framework for goal-directed hypothesis-driven science (GoHy) that students can use to design, conduct, and communicate their research, so they can maximize their impact. I'll give examples of how my lab and others are using goal-directed hypothesis-driven science to dissect the genetic basis of climate-adaptive traits in crops and translate these discoveries into technology that will (we hypothesize!) accelerate breeding of climate-resilient varieties.

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Dr. Christine Diepenbrock

Digital and genomics-enabled technologies to improve crop productivity and quality under abiotic stress conditions

Our research group is focused on improving crop nutritional quality and abiotic stress tolerance in staple and specialty crops, namely given the partial overlap in target environments for improvement of these trait sets. In this talk, I will describe a few of our group’s current projects, including as part of collaborative teams, that are relevant to the theme of this symposium. 1) The integration of crop growth models (CGM) and whole-genome prediction (WGP) in a large maize breeding experiment, with field evaluations at several sites in the U.S. Corn Belt and in managed stress environments. Briefly, predictive abilities of CGM-WGP were superior to or at parity with those of WGP in all four quadrants of prediction (tested and untested genotypes, tested and untested environments). 2) Evaluation of agronomic traits in yellow- to orange-grain maize hybrids in southeast Zimbabwe under drought and high temperatures. 3) Evaluation of agronomic and grain compositional traits in sorghum under pre-flowering drought and wellwatered conditions in California and South Africa—the latter through a plant breeding partnership with Dr. Julia Sibiya at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. 4) AI-enabled sensing and modeling of leaf biochemical and physiological traits in leafy greens and grain legumes.

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Dr. Kevin Begcy


Stressed? Chill out, plants know how to deal with pressure



Historically, pollen development studies under heat stress are performed across several developmental stages and occasionally through the entire pollen formation. However, high temperature spikes have become more extreme and with increasing frequency, and in many cases with greater intensity. Thus, although most pollen developmental stages appear to be sensitive to abiotic stresses, the molecular, physiological and biochemical bases that contribute to male sterility in response to heat stress during each pollen developmental stage are not well understood. This talk will discuss recent data on the negative effect of heat stress during the microsporogenesis-to-microgametogenesis transition as well as in some individual stages of the pollen microgametogenesis development in maize.

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April Taylor, M.S.


Losing Native Nations’ Culturally Significant Plants due to Climate Change: More than Material Damage



Loss, or decreasing populations, of culturally significant plants is a major concern for many tribal managers. Culturally significant plants are essential in many ways of life for tribal members; including uses in medicines, ceremonial practices and traditional food dishes. In many parts of the U.S., droughts, floods and changes in timing of frost are creating stress on culturally significant plants, in many cases, leading to decreases in their areas of suitable habitat or lowering their resistance to disease. This talk will introduce culturally significant plants and ways that climate change is stressing these plants. Then the talk will share about our approach to identify potential research collaboration opportunities.

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Dr. P.V. Vara Prasad

Impact of Climate Change Factors on Crops and Opportunities to Enhance Resilience of Agri-Food Systems

Crop production is highly sensitive to changing climatic conditions. Impact of climate change factors (temperature and carbon dioxide and interactions) on yield of selected grain crops will be presented. Elevated carbon dioxide concentrations will increase leaf photosynthesis and vegetative growth of crops. There are strong interactions between elevated carbon dioxide and elevated temperature in major food grain crops. The beneficial effects of elevated carbon dioxide mediated through increased photosynthesis will be negated by rising temperatures resulting in lower grain yields. Crop species have different optimum and ceiling temperatures. Above optimum temperatures will have negative impacts on reproductive processes (such as pollen production, pollen germination, fertilization, grain numbers and individual grain weight) resulting in lower grain yield and harvest index. Grain crops are most sensitive to short periods of high temperature stress during gametogenesis, flowering and early stages of grain filling. Stress during these stages leads to loss of gamete (pollen and ovule) fertility, poor pollination, decreased fertilization, increased embryo abortion, delay in start of grain filling and shorter grain filling duration. These impacts ultimately result in fewer grain numbers, smaller grain size and lower yields. Various mechanisms associated with reproductive failure, decreased yield and harvest index will be presented. There is urgent need to develop stress tolerant genotypes and climate smart agricultural practices with systems perspective to build resilience of our cropping systems to climate change. This should include exploring genetic, agro-ecological and socio-economic innovations to increase system resilience through both adaptation and mitigation strategies. Future research focus should be on systematic exploration of genetic resources (including wild relatives) for identifying tolerant genotypes, traits associated with tolerance or susceptibility and underlying mechanisms. Development of use of high-throughput phenotyping techniques and linking with genotyping data will be essential for screening large collections and targeted breeding to enhance tolerance. Better understanding the interactions between various climatic change factors on nutritional composition is needed to address nutritional security. Interaction of climate change factors with biotic pests (e.g., diseases, insects and weeds) and on host plant susceptibility is essential to quantify the overall impact on crop productivity. To address these multiple challenges (food, nutrition and climate security), focus should be on systems approaches such as sustainable agricultural intensification, climate smart agriculture, broader one-health, and using principles of circularity. This will require a stronger, meaningful and targeted dialogue and collaboration between multiple disciplines and convergence of sciences which includes both biophysical and social sciences. Emphasis should be on co-learning, co-creation and co-development that brings scholars, policy makers, private sector and practitioners together to ensure development and adoption of appropriate technologies occurs at scale to have positive impacts on food and nutritional security and environmental outcomes.

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Dr. David Bubeck

Plant Breeding to Enable Sustainable Production Agriculture

I will cover multiple aspects of the effectiveness of plant breeding as a means of buffering the effects of climate change and enabling more resilient production agriculture.  Corteva Agriscience is committed to both our customers and consumers in our effort to develop sustainable product solutions.  Several examples of how plant breeding has driven resilience and increased sustainability in production agriculture will be shared, including a brief look at our North America Corn “decade” studies, as well as progress towards drought resistance.  I will share some of the ongoing limitations that plant breeding is challenged to overcome.  Finally, I will end on technology opportunities for the future, as well as the importance of global technology acceptance, as plant breeders adopt additional technologies such as genome editing to drive product development.

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