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Cornell Plant Geneticist Featured at NMSU Lowenstein Lecture Series

LAS CRUCES - Innovative ways to produce new crop varieties by improving the flow of information between small seed companies and university plant breeders will be highlighted Feb. 19-20 at a special New Mexico State University lecture series.

Molly Jahn, a nationally known plant geneticist with Cornell University, will present two seminars on genetic diversity and agriculture Feb. 19-20 as part of New Mexico State University's Lowenstein Lecture Series. (02/11/2004) Courtesy Photo from Cornell University

Traditionally, the nation's university plant breeders have depended on major seed companies to take the end product of their work and distribute them to producers, said Molly Jahn, an internationally recognized plant breeder and geneticist with Cornell University's plant breeding and plant biology department. But in the past two decades, seed businesses have gone through a disruptive period of global consolidation.

"They've cut their product lines dramatically," Jahn said. "What we're trying to do is step up the ability of the public sector to meet producers' needs through better variety pipelines."

Jahn will present a public seminar Feb. 19 at 5:30 p.m. in Room 153 of Chemistry Lecture Hall, titled "Genetic diversity and agriculture: The role of public sector plant breeding in an era of globalized agriculture." Jahn's presentation is part of the Lowenstein Lecture Series from NMSU's agronomy and horticulture department. Jahn will give a second presentation for students and faculty Feb. 20 at 3:30 p.m. in Room 200 of Gerald Thomas Hall.

Small seed companies are coming forward to serve niche market crops, but many are not familiar with the resources of land-grant agricultural universities, said Jahn, who serves as director of the Public Seed Initiative, an alliance of public crop breeders and nonprofit organizations.

"We're beginning to make a real effort to find these companies, figure out what they need and what their consumers' want," she said. "And then we look in our storehouses basically to see what we have that fits those needs."

Jahn's research also focuses on gene discovery in crops that have economically important plant traits, said Mary O'Connell, a professor with NMSU's agronomy and horticulture department. Jahn's program extends from well-studied species such as the tomato to the more mysterious pepper.

Jahn's goals are developing a better understanding of plant traits such as disease resistance and fruit quality, as well as new crop varieties and improved breeding strategies, O'Connell said. Jahn received a bachelor's degree in biology from Swarthmore College. She earned a master's degree in biology from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctorate in plant breeding from Cornell.

NMSU's Lowenstein Lecture Series is made possible through a gift from the late Bonnie and Bernard Lowenstein of Albuquerque. The presentations promote interest and better understanding of floriculture and recreational horticulture, along with other fields of plant science. In addition, NMSU has offered the Bonnie Lowenstein Memorial endowed scholarship for undergraduates since 1993.

For more information or if you are an individual with a disability who is in need of an auxiliary aid or service to participate in the meeting, please contact O'Connell at (505) 646-5172 or moconnel@nmsu.edu before the event.