Cornell’s Plant Breeding & Genetics graduate student organization, also known as Synapsis, hosts an annual symposium where national and international scientists speak on important topics in plant breeding. While many similar events were canceled or postponed following campus closure in March, the student organizers of the 2020 “Bringing Back Biodiversity” themed symposium opted to proceed, switching to Zoom and Slack in place of in-person talks and coffee breaks.
Held April 17, the 2020 Synapsis Symposium was a tremendous success, featuring engaging science and smooth technological execution. The originally scheduled speakers delivered talks from locations as distant as Israel, California, and Wisconsin and over 200 participated on Zoom. Co-organizer Sarah Jensen reported that 33 states and 47 countries on 6 continents were represented among pre-registrants.
The motivation for selecting biodiversity as a theme is described on the Synapsis website:
Modern plant breeding activities largely emphasize improvement of monocultures that are derived from relatively narrow gene pools, but this approach is changing partially because of advances in affordable sequencing technology and widespread interest in maintaining sustainable agroecosystems that leverage natural genetic diversity to express desirable traits. We are interested in hearing more about efforts to collect and maintain germplasm of wild and closely-related relatives of useful plants, and how these exotic varieties are practically incorporated into breeding programs during cultivar development.
Crediting the excellent promotion by co-organizers Merritt Burch, Taylor Ferebee, and Aimee Schultz, Jensen commented, “I thought it was really exciting was how many people registered for the symposium from all around the world. It would be awesome to try to promote future Synapsis Symposia in the same way and see if we can get similar engagement in the future.” Special recognition is also given to speaker Paul Gepts of UC-Davis, whose title “Eat more beans!” was submitted many weeks before we found ourselves at home and doing just that.
2020 speaker list:
- Targeted recombination for precise plant breeding
Avraham Levy, The Weizmann Institute of Science
- Genome editing of Solanum cheesmaniae via CRISPR/Cas9: De novo domestication to harness salinity resistance
Estefania Tavares Flores, West Virginia University
- Plant Breeding for Long Term Genetic Gain
Emily Ziemke, Corteva Agriscience
- Unexpected diversity of grass abscission zones
Elizabeth Kellogg, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
- Genomic prediction for screening and selection from a carrot (Daucus carota) germplasm collection
Keo Corak, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Eat more beans! Phylogenetic and environmental origins of domestication and agronomic traits in common bean
Paul Gepts, University of California-Davis
- The Critical Nature of Diversity: Thinking Holistically About Plant Form and Function
Chelsea Specht, Cornell University
- Legal dimensions of bringing back biodiversity
Emily Spiegel, University of Vermont Law School
The Synapsis Symposium is sponsored by Corteva Agriscience (formerly DuPont Pioneer) which sponsors symposia at universities around the world to “enhance discussion amongst the academic community and private industry; build key organizational and management skills in future plant scientists; and expose students to career opportunities in agriculture.” Learn more about the mission and locations of symposia.
Read more about past Synapsis Symposia:
- Graduate Student Plant Breeding Symposium looks at “Common Plants for Uncommon Goals” (2019)
- Graduate Student Plant Breeding Symposium addresses shared aspects of plant and animal breeding (2018)
- 2017 Cornell Pioneer Symposium, “Seed to Start-Up”, to be hosted by Synapsis on March 10th (2017)
- Graduate students host symposium: “Breeding for the Emerging Global Middle Class” (2016)