High-ranking keynote speakers from academia and industrial sectors will participate in PlantTech 2021:

  • Dissecting vegetative desiccation tolerance and pointing to their use in the production of climate smart agriculture
    Farrant Jill, University of Cape Town (ZA)
  • The meaning of plant specialized metabolites in a changing environment
    Goossens Alain, VIB Center for Plant Systems Biology and Ghent University (BE)
  • Bioprocessing of berry-based ingredients for cosmetics, pharma and food applications
    Oksman-Caldentey Kirsi-Marja, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd (FIN)
  • Cryobanking Crop Genetic Resources; past, present and future perspectives
    Panis Bart, Bioversity International and KU Leuven Division of Crop Biotechnics (BE)
  • Genetic Engineering of Fruit Crops: Transformation, Rapid-Cycle Breeding, and FOX-Hunting in Wild Apple
    Wisniewski Michael, USDA-ARS (Ret.), Department of Biological Sciences, Virginia Tech University, Blacksburg (USA)

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Alain Goossens obtained his Master in Biology-Plant Biotechnology at Ghent University (1992) and his PhD in Marc Van Montagu’s lab at the Laboratory of Genetics, Ghent University (1998), studying plant seed storage protein synthesis. During his PhD, he has also been a visiting researcher at CIAT in Cali (Colombia) in the group of César Cardona. After obtaining his PhD degree, he performed postdoctoral studies at the IBMCP-UPV in Valencia (Spain) in the lab of Ramón Serrano, working on yeast salt tolerance.

He returned to VIB-Ghent University and started his own research group within the VIB-UGent Center for Plant Systems Biology at Ghent University in 2003, focusing on jasmonate signaling, gene discovery in plant specialized metabolism and metabolic engineering. He is experienced in yeast and plant functional genomics, molecular biology and applied biotechnology. His current research aspires to understand jasmonate signaling in model, crop and medicinal plants and unravel the mechanisms that steer plant growth and metabolism in response to developmental and environmental cues to find novel tools for plant metabolic engineering.

He has been appointed as a part-time Full Professor at Ghent University in 2015 and is teaching ‘Metabolic Engineering’. He has been mentoring over 35 master students, 30 PhD students and 20 postdoctoral researchers.

He has authored over 120 peer reviewed ‘A1’ publications, which have been cited over 6,900 times. He is co-inventor of 13 patent applications. Since 2015 he has been included in the prestigious Thomson Reuters list of Highly Cited Researchers.

Presentation: The meaning of plant specialized metabolites in a changing environment

Plant cells are capable of producing an overwhelming variety of specialized metabolites, both in terms of complexity and quantity. These small organic molecules allow plants to cope with various types of stresses but often also have biological activities of high interest to human. Yet, this impressive metabolic machinery is still hardly exploited, mainly because of the limited molecular insights into plant specialized metabolism. Across the plant kingdom, the jasmonate (JA) hormone steers the delicate balance between growth and the activation of defense programs, including the production of bioactive specialized metabolites. Hence, understanding when and why the JA signal is produced in planta, how it is perceived, how it interacts with other environmental and developmental cues, and how it is transduced to the onset of specialized metabolism will allow to capture the regulatory networks that steer the plant metabolic networks and, in parallel, will enable to unlock plant specialized metabolism for numerous human applications.

Jill Farrant is an expert on vegetative desiccation tolerance and biotechnological applications deriving therefrom.

Presentation: Dissecting vegetative desiccation tolerance and pointing to  their use in the production of climate smart agriculture

Drought is the greatest threat to world agriculture and due global warming, increased aridification is predicted in current food producing areas. To safeguard food security, it is essential to improve drought tolerance in crops and fodder. All current crops are intolerant of extreme water loss and while improved resistance to water loss has been achieved, such mechanisms fail under severe drought. Resurrection plants possess vegetative desiccation tolerance (DT), surviving loss of 95% cellular water for prolonged periods. Angiosperm resurrection species occurring in Southern Africa also survive extreme heat; conditions which severely limit current agricultural practices. We have systematically investigated the mechanisms whereby several different resurrection plants tolerate these extreme conditions, with the view of introducing such characteristics into crops for improved water deficit tolerance. In this presentation an overview of  molecular physiological processes associated with DT in a range of resurrection plants will be given and current and future applied outputs discussed.

 

Kirsi-Marja Oksman-Caldentey, PhD (Pharm).

Current positions: Adjunct professor at the University of Helsinki, and Research manager at VTT Industrial Biotechnology and Food Solutions. Her main research interests include plant secondary metabolism, cell culture technologies, bioprocessing, plant metabolic engineering and more recently cellular agriculture. Experience both from academia and pharmaceutical industry before starting at VTT in 1998. Member of scientific advisory boards of Agrotecnio (Spain) and Riken (Japan) and organizer of several international conferences. Scientific founder of the spin-off company Solucel (2006) based on the technology co-developed together with VIB (Belgium) and VTT (Finland) to engineer plant cells to produce high-value products for various industrial applications. Leader of the VTT innovation chain to utilise Nordic berry cell cultures for cosmetic applications resulting in several industrial commissions since 2010. She has obtained several international awards and published 110 original research papers and review articles, 19 book chapters, and 11 patents and patent applications (H-index 40).

Presentation: Bioprocessing of berry-based ingredients for cosmetics, pharma and food applications

Modern biotechnology offers many advantages to develop new type of ingredients for industrial applications in an environmental friendly and sustainable way. We have developed industrial scale biotechnological production systems for wild and rare Nordic berry species including their cell cultures with consistent quality and defined chemical composition. Through our bioprocessing technologies, such as seed sanding, fermentation and biotransformation, the berries and their by-products can be modified to obtain multifunctional ingredients with new or improved bioactivities, colours and flavours. Phenolic berry compounds efficiently inhibit the growth of skin pathogens, Staphylococcus aureus, S. epidermis and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, without affecting the growth of beneficial bacteria. These compounds prevent the biofilm formation and weaken the outer membrane of Gram- negative bacteria. Our recent findings show that some of the extracts are also very effective against MRSA bacteria thus opening entirely new avenues in fighting against severe worldwide problem of antibiotic resistance. The identification of the active compounds is on-going. The unusual phenolic profile of our cultured berry cells, together with their specific fatty acid composition and high protein content makes them a unique and interesting alternative for food applications. Some examples and future perspectives of cellular agriculture including edible plant cells will be discussed.

Michael Wisniewski served as a Supervisory Plant Physiologist with the USDA-ARS for 36 years working on fruit crops at the Appalachian Fruit Research Station in Kearneysville, WV. He has conducted pioneering research on cold hardiness of temperate fruit trees and the biological control of postharvest diseases.  He holds several patents on frost protection technology and the utilizations of yeasts as biocontrol agents.  He is recognized as a leading expert on the phenomenon of deep supercooling in woody plants and pioneered the use of high-resolution infrared thermography to study ice nucleation in plants. He also developed the first transgenic apple tree with improved freezing tolerance and altered dormancy.

More recently, he and his colleague, were the first to identify a genetic marker for blue mold resistance in apple inherited from the apple progenitor species, Malus sieversii and utilize a rapid cycle breeding system to introgress the trait into advanced breeding lines. He has received numerous scientific awards and is the author of over 230 peer-reviewed papers and 35 book chapters.

After retiring in October 2019, he has continued his research as an Adjunct Professor at Virgina Technical University in Blacksburg, VA.

 
Presentation: Genetic Engineering of Fruit Crops: Transformation, Rapid-Cycle Breeding, and FOX-Hunting in Wild Apple

Research on apple transformation systems will be discussed that led to the generation of transgenic apple lines with increased freezing tolerance, early dormancy, and delayed spring budbreak. Research on the characterization and utilization of the genetic diversity in Malus sieversii, an apple progenitor species, will also be discussed. This latter includes the development of a genetic map of Malus sieversii (PI 613985) using SSRs and SNPs, identification of a major quality trait loci (QTL) for blue mold resistance, and the introgression of that trait into advanced breeding material utilizing an rapid breeding cycle system developed for apple. Lastly, research will be presented on the development of a Forward Overexpressing (FOX) – Hunting Library in Arabidopsis utilizing cDNA of mid-winter bark tissues of PI 61385.  The library, which is expected to generate up to 8,000 independent lines with unique cDNAs will be available for mass screening for novel traits and the study of apple gene function.

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