Michel Georges

Michel Georges is Professor in Genetics and Genomics at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of the University of Liège in Belgium.  He heads the Unit of Genetics of the GIGA Research Institute in the same university.  Georges was born in Antwerp, Belgium in 1959.  He obtained his DVM degree at the University of Liège in 1983, followed by a degree in Molecular Biology at the Free University of Brussels in 1985.  From 1985 to 1988 he worked in the laboratories of Gilbert Vassart at the Free University of Brussels and Roger Hanset at the University of Liège. He obtained is habilitation from the University of Liège in 1991.  From 1989 to 1993 he was senior scientist, then director of research at Genmark Inc. and adjunct professor in the Department of Human Genetics in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Since 1994 he has been heading the Unit of Animal Genomics at the University of Liège. He played an instrumental role in establishing the GIGA Research Institute.  Georges was awarded the Wolf Prize in Agriculture in 2007, and the Francqui Prize in Biomedical Sciences in 2008.

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.

Sarah Hearne

Sarah Hearne, principal scientist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), focuses on identification and application of native genetic variation for crop improvement. Working with multi-disciplinary teams she explores, harnesses, re-combines and develops applications in the areas of genomics, informatics and biometrics, in order to leverage data synergies and more efficiently and effectively identify and use high value genetic variation in targeted breeding.

She currently leads Seeds of Discovery initiative (SeeD) of CIMMYT and the trait discovery and deployment space of the Excellence in Breeding Platform. Her science is complemented by emphasis on data management and equitable, IP-sensitive knowledge sharing; facilitating access to data, tools, services, germplasm, advice and training for other researchers and breeders.

Dr. Mike Gore

Dr. Mike Gore is a professor of molecular breeding and genetics for nutritional quality, Liberty Hyde Bailey professor, and Chair of the Plant Breeding and Genetics Section in the School of Integrative Plant Science at Cornell University. Mike is also the Associate Director for Research Partnerships in CROPPS, the Center for Research on Programmable Plant Systems. He holds a BS and MS from Virginia Tech and a PhD from Cornell University. His expertise is in the field of quantitative genetics and genomics, especially the genetic dissection of metabolic seed traits related to nutritional quality. Additionally, Mike is a pioneer in the development and application of field-based, high-throughput phenotyping tools for plant breeding and genetics research.

Charlie Johnson

Charles Johnson is director and founder of the Texas A&M AgriLife Genomics and Bioinformatics Service (TxGen), a multimillion-dollar agrigenomics research unit within Texas A&M AgriLife Research, part of the Texas A&M System. The center conducts next-generation sequencing and bioinformatics research with collaborators in 42 countries, working with hundreds of different groups including other universities and companies. His current internal research is centered around low-cost high throughput genotyping methods supporting AgriGenomics.

Dr. Johnson grow up on a farm in Northern Michigan, receiving his PhD from Texas A&M University and has worked for more than two decades in genomics and bioinformatics research, leading highly successful research teams in both industry and academia.

Renee Lafitte

Renee Lafitte is Deputy Director for Crops R&D in the Agricultural Development group at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She has a background in crop physiology, agronomy, and agro-ecology, with experience in technology discovery and product development for both intensive agriculture and resource-limited cropping systems. Prior to her current appointment, Renee was a Research Fellow at DuPont Pioneer and then at DowDuPont, where she focused on application of new phenotyping and remote sensing technologies for crop improvement, gene discovery, and the evaluation of new microbial and crop protection products. Previously, Renee worked for 20 years in the CGIAR system, based at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, and at the Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico.

A white man with salt and pepper hair gently smiles into the camera.

Nathan Lakey

Nathan Lakey is President and Chief Executive Officer of Orion Genomics, a company bringing cutting edge scientific expertise, innovation, proprietary technologies and commercial and academic partnerships throughout the globe to change how the world approaches feeding, fueling and healing itself. Lakey was awarded the top 40 under 40 award (2004 St. Louis), presented the governor’s top technology award (2005 Missouri), and he currently serves as Chairman of the Investment Advisory Committee, Biogenerator, and on the Patient Care Committee of the Board of Missouri Baptist Hospital. He has more than 20 years of experience in genomics. Prior to the founding of Orion Genomics, he was Director of DNA Sequencing at Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Inc., in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1994-98), where he built and operated Millennium’s DNA sequencing platform, and helped form three strategic business units – Millennium Predictive Medicine, Millennium Biotherapeutics and Cereon Inc. Before joining Millennium, Mr. Lakey held various positions with Molecular Dynamics (Sunnyvale, CA), Ambion Inc (Austin TX) and Harvard Medical School, Department of Genetics, in George Church’s laboratory. Mr. Lakey received a B.A. in Biochemistry from the University of Texas (Austin), and an MBA from Washington University Olin School of Business (St. Louis) where he received the C. William Emory Executive MBA Award. Mr. Lakey holds multiple issued patents in the U.S. and abroad.

Susan McCouch

Susan McCouch is the Barbara McClintock Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics in the School of Integrative Plant Science at Cornell University. She also serves as Director of the Cornell Initiative for Digital Agriculture. She received her PhD from Cornell in 1990 and spent 5 years with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines before joining the Cornell faculty in 1995. She is known for developing the first molecular genetic map of rice and for her key and sustained role in turning rice into a model for genetics and breeding research. Her work provides a critical foundation for rapid trait identification and cultivar development, and her contribution to the development of databases and software tools has facilitated the sharing of data and accelerated rice breeding worldwide. In collaboration with USDA colleagues, her group released the first red-pericarp rice variety in the US in 2018. She currently serves as founding member and Chair of the Board of Directors for the DivSeek International Network, a not-for-profit member-driven organization dedicated to the characterization and use of genetic variation in crop improvement.  She has been recognized with numerous awards, including the Presidential Award from the Crop Science Society of America (2016), an Honorary Ph.D. from Tamil Nadu Agricultural University in India (2015), the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities (2012), the Golden Sickle Award for the advancement of international rice research (2007), and the Outstanding Faculty Award from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell (2006), and has contributed extensively to educational initiatives and international outreach. She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a recently elected member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Eric Psota

Eric Psota is the Digital Innovation Manager at PIC North America. Since joining in 2021, he has been responsible for developing advanced technologies for digital phenotyping using computer vision and machine learning. Specifically, he specializes in multi-object tracking, pose estimation, animal identification, anomaly detection, real-time systems, and edge computing. Prior to joining PIC, he was a researcher at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he remains on the faculty as an adjunct professor.

Robin Buell

University of Georgia

In July 2021, Dr. C. Robin Buell joined the University of Georgia as the Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar Chair in Crop Genomics in the Department of Crop & Soil Sciences and the Center for Applied Genetic Technologies. Prior to joining UGA, she was a University Distinguished Faculty and MSU Foundation Professor of Plant Biology at Michigan State University (2007-2021), an Associate Investigator at The Institute for Genomic Research (1999-2007), and as Assistant Professor at Louisiana State University (1997-1998).