Ross Houston

Prof Ross Houston is Director of Genetics and Innovation at Benchmark Holdings. Benchmark is a leading aquaculture biotechnology company focused on products and solutions that improve farming efficiency and animal health. There he leads Benchmark Genetics’ global breeding programs for Atlantic salmon and whiteleg shrimp, as well as R&D activities, with a particular focus on applications of emerging technologies, including reproductive technologies and gene editing. He is also Chair of Benchmark Innovation Board, which fosters exploitation of synergies across the Genetics, Health, and Advanced Nutrition business units.

Ross has over 20 years of experience in applied genetics research in animal breeding, having formerly been Personal Chair of Aquaculture Genetics and the Deputy Director for Translation and Commercialisation at The Roslin Institute. He has authored or coauthored more than 110 scientific publications, as well as several patents. Ross has been at the forefront of application of new genomic and biotechnologies to towards genetic improvement in aquaculture, and has also published several high profile review and perspective papers on these topics, for example in Nature Reviews Genetics here

Xuelu Wang

Professor Xuelu Wang has long been engaged in the study of microbial interaction, biological nitrogen fixation, leguminous biology and plant hormone signal transduction networks and their mechanisms of regulating growth and development. He has published many important research papers and been cited more than 3,000 times. These research results have important biological significance and also provide important theoretical foundations and innovative methods for the development of green agriculture. At the same time, he has presided over projects of Outstanding Youth Fund, key fund, international cooperation and major research program integration fund, which are all supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China. He has also presided over the task of project of the Ministry of Science and Technology, and been rated as a young and middle-aged expert with outstanding contributions by the National millions of Talents Project. In addition, he enjoys a State Council special allowance.

Professor Wang lectured on such undergraduate and graduate courses as Plant Physiology, Cell Signal Transduction, Cell Biology and Developmental Biology. In addition, he is also a member of Biology Assessment Panel of the State Council; a member of the Biological Science Teaching Steering Committee of the Ministry of Education.

Howard Shapiro

Howard has been involved with sustainable agricultural and agroforestry systems, pattern recognition, plant breeding, molecular biology and genetics for over 40 years releasing hundreds of cultivars into the public domain. He has worked with indigenous communities, NGO’s, governmental agencies and the private sector around the world. A former university professor for 15 years, Fulbright Scholar, Ford Foundation Fellow, in 2007 Howard was made a Fellow of the World Agroforestry Centre and authored the IAASTD chapter on Biotechnology and Biodiversity. He was a founding member of the Keystone Roundtable on Sustainable Agriculture, co-chair of the 1st and 2nd World Congress of Agroforestry and is Chairperson of the External Advisory Board of the Agriculture Sustainability Institute at UC Davis. In 2009 he was named recipient of The Award of Distinction from The College of agriculture and Environmental Sciences, UC Davis. He led the global effort sequencing, assembling and annotating the Theobroma cacao genome and is part of the leadership team for the Arachis genome global effort. In 2010 he was named a Senior Fellow, Plant Sciences, the University of California, Davis. September 2011, he announced the formation of the African Orphan Crops Consortium, set up to sequence, assemble and annotate 101 of the key African food crops in order to breed more nutritious plants. He as well set up the African Plant Breeding Academy with UC Davis at the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi which opened the 3rd of December 2013. He has served on both for profit and NGO boards.

He collects and restores classic American, modern Japanese and Italian motorcycles. He recently became a member of the 200 Mile Per Hour Club on an unrestricted 1999 Suzuki Hayabusa. Averaging 201.386 MPH.

Sam Oyola

Samuel Oyola is a senior Scientist at ILRI and head of GenomicScience. Samuel specializes in Genomics and Molecular Biology. He holds a PhD in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Cambridge, UK. Before joining ILRI, he studied functional genomics of Leishmaniasis and host-parasite interaction as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of York, UK. He then took a Scientist position at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge UK, where he worked on malaria; developing and applying high throughput genomic technologies to study natural genetic variations in malaria parasite populations. He developed novel molecular tools that enable application and translation of genomic technologies into basic healthcare and public health applications. At ILRI, Samuel is using his experience and expertise in modern genomics, biotechnology and molecular biology to study several aspects of animal and human health. Under epidemiology, Samuel is using modern genomic and bioinformatic tools to study epidemiology of rift valley fever virus (RVFV), African swine fever virus (ASFV), Newcastle disease virus (NDV), Peste des petits ruminants virus (PPRV), SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) and Climate-aggravated infectious diseases such as those caused by Arboviruses. Under vaccine development, Samuel is employing his immunogenetics expertise to identify and develop potential vaccine antigens by profiling antibody immune (B-cell receptor repertoire) responses to candidate vaccine immunizations.  Samuel is also actively involved in developing Genomic Surveillance capacity in Africa.

Damaris Odeny

Damaris Odeny is a plant molecular breeder with global research experience cutting across Africa, Asia, Europe and USA. She has led and implemented genomics projects in both cereals and legumes, including the development of genomic resources in several orphan crops. Damaris works closely with other disciplines from national, private and international institutes to develop cutting edge genomic resources for all ICRISAT mandate crops (sorghum, pearl and finger millet, groundnut, chickpea and pigeonpea) in her current role. Prior to this, she worked as a senior researcher at the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), South Africa, where she played a key role in establishing molecular breeding processes for indigenous vegetables. Damaris is also passionate about mentoring of young upcoming scientists and has successfully mentored more than fifty scientists in her career to date.

Damaris earned her PhD in Plant Genetics (2006) from the University of Bonn (Germany) and completed a post-doctoral training from the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in 2009 in Cologne, Germany.

Areas of expertise: Qualitative and quantitative genetics; Genetic mapping; Pre-breeding; Plant genetic engineering; Mutation breeding; Statistical genomics; High throughput genotyping and marker development; Next Generation Sequencing and data analysis; Transcriptome analysis; Metagenomics.

Geoff Morris

Geoff Morris is an associate professor for Crop Genetics & Genomics at Colorado State University.  The goal of his  research program is to better understand the genomic basis of adaptation in crops and wild relatives. Through this he aims to gain insight on some fundamental mechanisms of crop adaptation and facilitate improvement of crop adaptive traits.

Nathan Springer

Nathan Springer received a PhD from the University of Minnesota in 2000 and his thesis research in Dr. Ron Phillips lab involved cloning of DNA methyltransferases from maize and analysis of anueploid-induced syndromes.  Nathan was a post-doctoral research in Shawn Kaeppler’s group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison working on functional genomics of maize chromatin.  He joined the faculty in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology at the University of Minnesota in 2003.  Members of the Springer lab applied classical genetic, molecular genetic and genomic approaches to study natural variation for gene expression and chromatin in maize and have published >150 papers on these topics.  The Springer research group has also been involved in research on imprinting, heterosis and structural genomic variation in maize. In 2022 Nathan began a new position as the Head of Genetic and Genomic Innovation at Bayer Crop Sciences where he is involved in developing strategy to utilize genomic tools to improve plant breeding processes.

Diane Saunders

Professor Diane Suanders is the Head of the Department and Group Leader Delivering Sustainable Wheat (DSW), and Advancing Plant Health (APH). 

Diane’s research focuses on (re-)emerging plant pathogens that pose a significant threat to agriculture.

She has a particular interest in the wheat rust pathogens, which are known as the “polio of agriculture” due to the threat they pose to wheat production worldwide. This includes numerous projects studying the wheat yellow rust pathogen, Puccinia striiformis f.sp tritici that recently re-emerged as a major constraint on UK agriculture.

In Diane’s lab, they use an array of different approaches to study plant pathogens to improve our understanding of how pathogens cause disease. Current projects include:

  • Developing new, innovative genomics-based tools to track and study pathogen dispersal on a national and international scale
  • Understanding how pathogens evolve to evade host recognition and fungicide control
  • Developing a better understanding of how specific host plants respond to pathogen invasion
  • Unravelling the role of wild plants in the life cycle of the wheat rust pathogens in the UK

In one recent project, the group pioneered a revolutionary genomics-based pathogen surveillance technique called ‘field pathogenomics’ that uses the latest DNA sequencing technology to generate high-resolution data quickly for describing the diversity in a pathogen population directly from infected field samples. This information is essential to help breeders to develop wheat varieties that are resistant to the wider range of yellow rust isolates that they now find in the field.

Through international collaboration with CIMMYT and the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research this technique has been further developed into a portable platform called Mobile And Real-time PLant disEase (MARPLE) diagnostics that is allowing scientists in Ethiopia to track the spread of individual strains of wheat yellow rust in near real-time. This in turn enables stakeholders to make immediate decisions regarding disease management within the current growing season.

Diane’s fundamental research has provided new knowledge on how pathogens successfully invade susceptible plant hosts and influence a host plant’ s circuitry during infection. For instance, developing a framework for a better understanding of how wheat yellow rust causes disease by uncovering new information on how the pathogen suppresses the expression of defence components in wheat to successfully colonise a susceptible host.

Diane is also passionate about training the next-generation of plant scientists and runs training courses and workshops internationally (particularly in bioinformatics) to empower early-career researchers in regions where tuition is limited.

Yang Xiahong

Professor Xiaohong Yang, with the Chinese Agricultural University Research of Special Interest:

Our research interests focus on maize grain yield and nutritional quality.   We aim to dissect the genetic architecture of the traits related to grain yield and nutritional quality in maize by QTL mapping and association mapping. We are also interested in cloning the QTLs controlling the traits related to grain yield and nutritional quality, mining favorable alleles and understanding molecular mechanism. Finally, we aim for the improvement of maize grain yield and nutritional quality by molecular breeding using the identified genes or favorable alleles.

Cathie Martin

Professor Cathie Martin is a Group Leader at the John Innes Centre and Fellow of the Royal Society.

research interests lie in using plant science to improve human diet and health.

She is particularly interested in biofortification and using plant metabolic engineering to enhance foods nutritionally.

Much of Cathie’s work has been undertaken in tomatoes, enriching their nutrient content with, for example, resveratrol and anthocyanin.

Cathie collaborates to test these enhanced foods in intervention studies and also undertakes studies into how these modified fruits have improved shelf-life and reduced susceptibility to grey mould, Botrytis cinerea.

  • Biofortification of fruit and vegetables for human health
  • Metabolic engineering to enhance phytonutrients such as anthocyanins and resveratrol
  • Improving the shelf-life of fruit and vegetables

Cathie and her group have recently been co-ordinating research into the relationship between diet and health, and how crops can be fortified to improve diets and address the global challenge of escalating chronic disease. This work has involved linking leading clinical and epidemiological researchers with plant breeders and metabolic engineers to develop scientific understanding of how diet can help to maintain health, lead to healthy ageing and reduce the risk of chronic disease.

This has included research into plants which contain natural chemical compounds, some of which are seen as ‘natural medicines.’ Cathie is particularly interested in phenolic compounds present in fruit and vegetables which are considered to be the main ‘active ingredients’ of many ‘super foods’ and ‘super drinks’.

Cathie’s fundamental research has also focused on cellular specialisation and she was the first to identify genes regulating cell shaping in plants. She is currently investigating how specially shaped cells adapt plants to their environment.

Cathie is also interested in cellular specialisation in flowers (colour and cell shape) and how these traits are used by different plants for pollinator attraction.

She has also been involved in developing genetic screens to identify crops which lack toxins that cause nutritional diseases such as konzo and neurolathyrism.