UP students organise first DuPont Plant Breeding Symposium in Africa
The first DuPont Plant Breeding Symposium to be held on African soil was recently hosted by the Genomics Research Institute (GRI) at the University of Pretoria (UP). A team of postgraduate students (Ronishree Mangwanda, Erik Visser, Jonathan Botha, Ncobile Kunene and Miekie Haasbroek) from the Department of Plant Science, the Department of Genetics, the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI) and the Genomics Research Institute (GRI) took on the challenge of organising the symposium. The theme was ‘Genomics of crops and pathogens for molecular breeding’ and was chosen to highlight the importance of genomics for molecular breeding of crops and to showcase the expertise in this field at UP.
The series of DuPont Plant Breeding Symposiums is aimed at stimulating dialogue and collaboration in the field and was started in 2008 in the USA, with events being held for the first time in China, India and Africa this year. The team of UP students was given a budget by DuPont and the task to make all arrangements for the symposium, including the selection and hosting of speakers, website design and logistics. A website was set up for the symposium (www.dupontafricapbs2014.co.za), the programme was also made available through a mobile App, and the presentations were made publicly available in real time through a Webinar.
The symposium was opened by Professor Anton Ströh, Vice-Principal: Institutional Planning, UP. International plenary speakers were Dr Geoff Graham, Vice-President: Hybrid Crop Product Development, DuPont Pioneer; Dr Peter Freymark: Research Lead for Africa, DuPont Pioneer; Prof Yves van de Peer: Department of Plant Systems Biology, Ghent University VIB, Belgium (and holding a joint appointment at GRI, UP); and Prof Brian Steffenson: Lieberman-Okinow Endowed Chair of Cereal Disease Resistance, Department of Plant Pathology, University of Minnesota, USA. Local plenary speakers were Dr Rikus Kloppers: PANNAR SEED; Dr Renée Prins: Director, CenGen (Pty) Ltd (a molecular breeding service company); and Prof Dave Berger: Department of Plant Science and FABI, UP. Several UP postgraduate students completed the programme with talks and posters on their research.
The symposium brought plant breeders, government officials, researchers, students and academics together to discuss the impact of genomics research on plant breeding. The student organising committee received many accolades from local and international guests for their teamwork and the efficient way in which they arranged an excellent symposium. This affirms the quality of postgraduate education at UP during which time the students are also encouraged to develop so-called ‘soft skills’ that are critically important in the job market today.
Dr Freymark had this to say about the student committee that organised the symposium: ‘The event was well organised and attracted high-calibre speakers. It is encouraging to see the next generation getting involved to solve the greatest food security challenge of tomorrow’s generation – feeding 9 billion people.’
Hosting the first DuPont Plant Breeding Symposium in Africa stems from long-standing and continuing collaborations in crop genomics and plant pathology between Prof Dave Berger and others at the University of Pretoria and Dr Rikus Kloppers of PANNAR SEED (now part of DuPont). Discussions are ongoing with DuPont on growing the partnership through continued symposia and joint research initiatives to address the challenges in food security on the African continent.