CHIANG MAI: Some 300 leading experts in solanaceous crops, plant breeding innovation, genomics and biotechnology have gathered this week in the north of Thailand for the 15th Solanaceae Conference (#solana18).
Co-organized by East West Seed and Chiang Mai University, this year’s conference is supported by a number of private and public organizations with a stake in solanaceous crop research and development.
The Solanaceae or “nightshade” family comprises economic crops in several key genus, including Solanum (tomato, potato and eggplant), Capsicum (sweet and hot peppers) and even the genus Nicotiana (tobacco).
The conference was officially inaugurated yesterday (September 30) with a ceremony a tLe Méridien Chiang Mai, in which addresses were given by Associate Professor Sampan Singharajwarapan Ph.D., Vice President of Chiang Mai University; Director of Cornell University’s Plant Transformation Facility, Dr Matthew Willmann and President and CEO of East-West Seed, Mr. Bert van der Feltz.
Over the coming days, scientists will synergize on a number of breeding and biotechnology trends, challenges and opportunities. See also news here.
APSA will host a session on October 4, which will explore potential private-public-partnership (PPP) research and development projects in Asia, with an emphasis on insect resistance in solanaceous crops.
Thursday’s session will also discuss plans for the third Asian Solanaceous Round Table (ASRT 3), proposed to be held in Bengaluru, India, October, 2019.
Scope of Genomics
Leading up to the conference’s opening ceremony yesterday (September 30), Asian Seed joined several other representatives from local and international media organizations to gauge a panel of conference representatives about the scope and significance of the annual meeting.
The panel comprised lead conference organizer and Group Biotechnology and Molecular Plant Breeding Manager at East-West Seed, Dr. Darush Struss; along with Cornell University’s Dr Matthew Willmann; Chiang Mai University Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture, Dr Nuttha Potapohn and East-West Seed’s Bert van der Feltz.
Dr. Struss said that the conference serves primarily as a platform for scientists to network and interact in person: “It’s not just about sharing the latest scientific developments and achievements, which we can read about in publications … it’s more about the face-to-face interactions, which facilitate the generation of new ideas, and the opportunity to collaborate on projects,” he said.
Bert van der Feltz added, “We sometimes forget that scientists are people too, and people excel when they meet and work together. This is a great opportunity for our own scientists to interact with other scientists, and meet the people behind the publications and studies they’ve read,” he said.
This year’s program puts a lot of emphasis on biotechnology, and more specifically, genomic technologies that stand to significantly improve and increase yields in the face of increasing global hunger and population trends.
Dr Matthew Willmann, Director of Cornell University’s Plant Transformation Facility, talked about the essence of these genomic technologies, which he said h
ave been in development for about 20 years.
He explained that genomics is concerned with the entire genome of any given organism or plant. “These [technologies] are ways of looking at all the genes that an organism has, all at the same time. You’re looking at sequence, when genes are turned on and off – what activates them and the variability between individuals. For example, a high-yielding rice variety versus a low-yielding one – what are the genetic factors that control this? And rather than looking at it gene-by-gene you’re looking at all the genes — all at the same time,” he summarized.
He stressed that without such technology, it may not be possible to increase agricultural productivity sufficiently enough to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal to end world hunger and malnutrition by 2030.
Dr Nuttha Potapohn, Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture highlighted another key reason for why her university, country and region have a common interest to embrace such technologies.
“These technologies may ultimately enable us to become less dependent on agri-chemicals, which post significant challenges, for not only for Thailand but the rest of ASEAN and Asian countries,” she said.
She added that such technologies are only starting to be researched in Thailand, and not yet available commercially due to capacity and legislative limitations.
“The younger generation are keen and capable, and we need to ensure that they’re not left behind.”
Gene editing is one such genomic technology that has generated a lot of buzz in plant breeding circles around the world.
Unlike seeds and crops developed using conventional transgenic, or “GMO” methods, material that was created using newer gene-editing techniques cannot be readily differentiated from material that was derived from conventional cross-breeding techniques.
Yet, production times required for newer and improved plant material using these latest technologies can drastically be reduced.
Watch this space for more updates on plant breeding innovation.
Meanwhile, for more information and the SOL 18 program agenda, please see the conference official web page here.