Speaker's Bios

  • Political Puzzles of the GMO: It’s not about the science

    Ron Herring, Cornell University

    Why is the GMO blocked, restricted, stigmatized whereas new crop technologies of the “Green Revolution” were readily accepted? Why is genetic engineering in medicine and pharmaceuticals normalized whereas recombinant DNA technology is agriculture is highly restricted? Why is there greater acceptance of agricultural biotechnology in some countries than others? A full political economy of the GMO must consider not only costs and benefits to multiple actors in different societies — a standard benefit/cost matrix -- but also the social psychology of risk, cognition and information in national and transnational politics. 

    A journey into molecular aspects of sustainable systems and multitasking polyamines reveals they piggyback on each other

    Autar K. Mattoo

    Sustainable agro-ecosystem management practices that protect the environment, minimize chemical inputs, and lower the costs of production while meeting the demand of a growing world population have become a priority in the past two decades. One such sustainable farming practice for tomato production is a reduced-tillage, cover crop based system that maximizes production while enhancing environmental services. Tomato plants grown on leguminous hairy vetch (HV) versus conventional black polyethylene (BP) mulch have sustained expression of genes that allow longevity and disease tolerance and revealed a crosstalk among plant organs1-3. Metabolomic profile analysis highlighted distinctive fluidity of metabolite networks associated with agro-ecosystem environment. Modification of the field agro-ecosystem had a profound effect on metabolites. Associations of higher levels of select amino and organic acids with lower sugar levels in HV-grown compared to BP grown tomatoes highlighted cross-talk between C and N networks in response to changes in resource competition between plant vegetative and reproductive growth4,5.

    At the cellular level, polyamines (PAs) – putrescine, spermidine and spermine are ubiquitous biogenic amines which act as ‘rejuvenator molecules’, restoring an aging plant cell with the metabolic elixir characteristic of younger cells6,7. PAs activate nucleolar snoRNAs allowing preRNA processing thereby inducing ribosome biogenesis in concert with upregulating chaperone gene expression and protein dynamics in non-dividing fruit cells. Metabolic profiles and shifts in their networks in transgenic high PA tomato fruit were found to be similar to that induced in HV-grown tomato plants. A distinct loss in density of metabolic correlation changes is seen between legume and non-legume covers when compared within high-polyamine vs. low-polyamine genotypes5. Thus, sustainable systems and multitasking polyamines piggyback on each other to upregulate nutrition molecules in long lasting tomato lines.

    Further Reading: 1Kumar et al. (2004) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 101:10535-10540; 2Neelam et al. (2008) J. Exp. Bot. 59:2337-2346; 3Mattoo and Teasdale (2010) Hort. Revs. 37:331-362; 4Toubiana et al. (2012) PLoS Genetics 8: e1002612; 5Fatima et al. (2016) Metabolomics 12:103, DOI: 10.1007/s11306-016-1037-2; 6Handa and Mattoo (2010) Plant Physiol. Biochem. 48:540–546; 7Mattoo et al. (2010) Amino Acids 38:405–413.

    Deputy Assistant Administrator, USAID’s Bureau for Food Security

    Saharah Moon Chapotin serves as Deputy Assistant to the Administrator in USAID’s Bureau for Food Security. She previously served as Division Chief for Research in BFS, where she oversaw the implementation of the Feed the Future Research Strategy, a key effort under the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, and launched the Feed the Future Innovation Lab portfolio with U.S. universities. Saharah Moon joined USAID in 2006 as an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow and subsequently served as a Biotechnology Advisor with a focus on South Asia.
    Prior to joining the agency, Saharah Moon completed fellowships at Iowa State University and the National Academies working on issues of biosafety policy, scientific communication and national security. Earlier in her career she conducted forest ecology and canopy biology research throughout the U.S. and in Madagascar and Costa Rica.
    Saharah Moon holds a Ph.D. in Plant Physiology from Harvard University and a B.S. in Biology from Stanford University.


    Agricultural Transformation in Africa: What will it take to Turn Africa into a global breadbasket?

    Ephraim Nkonya, IFPRI, Washington, DC

    Over 50% of the land area that will be converted to agriculture by 2050 will come from Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). While crop yield and livestock productivity gaps in other regions have shrunk – thus offering limited room for increasing food production, SSA yield gap is the widest – making Africa a potential global breadbasket in the future. The region accounts for a third of the global grassland area and third of 30% of the world’s mineral reserves. Despite these and many other opportunities, about 46% of SSA’s 925 people live below the poverty line. However, there are changes that provide lessons and hope for turning SSA as a global breadbasket. Seven of the ten fastest growing economies in the world are African countries. There are also success stories in Africa showing that improvement of governance and building robust marketing environment contributes significantly to economic and social development in the region. This paper discusses the strategies for exploiting opportunities and addressing challenges in efforts to transform African agriculture and turning SSA the future breadbasket.

    Agriculture, environment and sustainable development: Political economy perspectives

    David Spielman, IFPRI, Washington, DC.

    This presentation examines the future of food, nutritional and environmental security in a rapidly changing world. The presentation focuses the challenge of feeding a growing global population while minimizing the environmental footprint of agricultural development and wider economic growth, with particular emphasis on the ways in which these challenges are manifested in lower-income countries. The presentation is designed with two objectives in mind. First, it aims to provide students with the analytical insights into how social and economic institutions influence the manner in which agents interact around issues relating to agriculture and the environment, particularly with respect to the production, exchange, and use of knowledge and information. Second, it aims to provide students with exposure to the contested framings and competing narratives developed by public, private, and civil society actors around the global discourse on agriculture, environment and sustainable development. The presentation will briefly explores the framings and narratives around international efforts to accelerate agricultural productivity growth in the face of uncertainties posed by long-term climate change and short-term weather volatility. This will to lead to a discussion on global efforts to advance both human development environmental conservation, exploring the economic trade-offs facing communities and individuals associated with growth and development, particularly those in developing countries where the costs, benefits, and risks associated with future scenarios for food, nutritional and environmental security may have dramatic implications for livelihood strategies and welfare. The presentation will touch on issues ranging from the debates around genetically modified organisms and bio-economic policy to grassroots social and environmental movements to the effectiveness of official development assistance. Drawing on both academic and practitioner perspectives, the presentation will use principles from development economics, public policy analysis, and the biological and environmental sciences.