Plant Biology Annual Symposium History

The Plant Biology Graduate Program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has presented annual Plant Biology symposiums since October 2003. Each symposium has been designed to highlight an exciting area of plant biology and has featured a daylong program of speakers, along with a poster sessions featuring contributions from attendees.

Here is a brief listing of past symposiums:


The Plant Biology of Climate Change - Saturday, October 12, 2019

Faculty coordinators: Kristina DeAngelis and Marco Keiluweit

WOLFGANG BUSCH - Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory Salk Institute
"Harnessing natural variation to identify mechanisms for environmental adaptation"

CATE MACINNIS-NG - University of Auckland, New Zealand
"New Zealand’s forests in a changing climate challenges and opportunities in the land of the long white cloud"

CATHERINE GEHRING - Northern Arizona University
"Can soil microbes help trees respond to climate change: Evidence from a southwestern tree species"

JEFF DUKES - Purdue University
"Plant responses and feedbacks to climate change: Perspectives from the Boston-Area Climate Experiment"

CAROLYN MALMSTROM - Michigan State University
"Influence of anthropogenic landscape change on plant – virus interactions"


Tree Genes to Ecosystem Function - Saturday, October 13, 2018

Faculty coordinators: Sam Hazen and Kristina Stinson.

SHAWN MANSFIELD - University of British Columbia, Canada
"On the surface, it seemed so easy - Exploiting natural diversity to uncover cuticular wax biosynthesis in Poplar"

JACQUELINE GRIMA-PETTENATI - University of Toulouse, France
"Dissecting the regulatory networks underlying wood formation in Eucalyptus during development and in response to abiotic stresses"

MISSY HOLBROOK - Harvard University
"Vascular transport in trees: In it for the long haul"

CHRIS STILL - Oregon State University
"Forest ecosystem physiology: temperature, water, and carbon cycles"

JENNIFER POWERS - University of Minnesota
"Seasonally Dry Tropical Forests and Global Change"

Faculty, students and postdoctoral fellows from across New England gathered at UMass Amherst on Saturday, October 13th, 2018 for the 16th Annual Plant Biology Symposium -“Tree Genes to Ecosystem Function” hosted by the Interdepartmental Graduate Program in Plant Biology. The conference featured five invited experts, representing research from both U.S. and international universities, who discussed the genetics, physiology and ecology of trees. The symposium began with a discussion of wax biosynthesis in leaves, continued with genes involved in wood production and an exploration of xylem hydrodynamics, and concluded with a discussion of the long-term, large-scale responses to climate change in Costa Rican forests. A poster session followed, with the over 100 conference attendees gathered in the top floor of the Campus Center to view 36 posters featuring research from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Vermont.

Shawn Mansfield from the University of British Columbia started the event with his work on Populus trichocarpus, in which his group uses multiple approaches from population gene analysis to biochemistry. He highlighted results of one of his postdoctoral fellows specializing in biosynthesis of alkene waxes – waxes with unsaturated hydrocarbon tails. Importantly, his group discovered that trees producing alkene waxes tend to be more resistant to disease and can devote more energy to robust growth rather than to pathogen defense. The pathway by which these waxes are synthesized is poorly understood, but they successfully identified a gene encoding an ER-localized protein, the expression of which directly correlated with alkene wax production on the underside of leaves. Understanding wax synthesis is a potential new frontier in improving the health and production of trees.

Dr. Jacqueline Grima-Pettenati from the University of Toulouse, France related her work on Eucalyptus to both the wood industry and the changing climate. Eucalyptus is the most planted hardwood tree worldwide, but it faces significant challenges as shifts in weather increase heat, frost, and drought stress. Her talk emphasized transcriptional regulation of genes governing wood formation, as well as relationship of these genes to stress response networks. Her lab has identified a transcription factor and a histone linker that interact to affect both wood formation (secondary cell wall deposition) and responses to abiotic stress. Her work has important implications for industrial wood supply, especially as trees are increasingly threatened by the environmental stresses of climate change.

Dr. Missy Holbrook of Harvard University is at the forefront of applying physics to tree physiology. Her talk concerned unravelling the dynamics of water and nutrient transport (in xylem and phloem, respectively) in tall trees, such as red oak. Transporting water up and nutrients down a 100+ foot tree is a fascinating and difficult problem. Her group seeks to understand how trees cope with shifting transport system pressures caused by transpirational water loss in order to avoid fatal embolisms – air bubbles in the xylem. Using scanning electron microscopy, Holbrook’s lab observed that xylem deforms near the site of transpiration, an intriguing new mechanism for regulating water loss from leaves. She also discussed phloem transport, using physical models and pressure measurements to conclude that resistance to water movement is not determined by tree height, but rather by physical attributes of sieve plates in the phloem.  

In the afternoon talks Dr. Christopher Still of Oregon State University and Dr. Jennifer Powers of the University of Minnesota expanded the conference focus further, emphasizing the interaction of trees at the ecosystem level with their broader environment. Still presented amazing thermal camera images of conifer forests in the Pacific Northwest. The images allowed him to critique the homeothermy model of heat management in trees.  He provided insight into the potential of forests to respond to climate change-related heat stress. His studies analyzed the effects of heat waves of forest photosynthetic efficiency and water cycling, concluding that tree responses are variable and related to soil properties, as well as the history of heat waves. Dr. Powers wrapped up the  talks with a review of more than a decade of data from seasonally dry, tropical forests in Costa Rica. Through analysis of species distribution, soil traits, and species richness she showed how both land use and climate affects these forests. Powers brought the presentations to a close, reading from her own rainforest bedtime story emphasizing the importance of these critical habitats and their contribution to global climate and biodiversity.

The poster session afforded time for lively discussions and networking with good food and beverages. All are invited to join the 17th Annual Plant Biology Symposium on October 12th, 2019 where the topic will be Plants and Climate Change.

Reported by Jesse Arsenault and edited by Elizabeth Vierling



Capturing the dynamic architecture of cells: Honoring the high-resolution career of Peter Hepler - Saturday October 14, 2017

Faculty coordinators: Tobias Baskin, Madelaine Bartlett, and Magdalena Bezanilla.

PETER HEPLER - University of Massachusetts, Amherst
"Growth control in pollen tubes: the actin/ion nexus"

LACEY SAMUELS - University of British Columbia
"Multi-scale analysis of endoplasmic reticulum-plasma membrane contact sites"

"Abscisic acid-induced signal transduction and stomatal CO2 sensing in plants" 

STEFANIE SPRUNCK - Univeristy of Regensburg
"Molecular and cellular events during gamete activation and fusion"

LUIS VIDALI - Worcester Polytechnic Institute
"Quantitative analysis of vesicles, myosin XI, and actin dynamics in tip growth"


Phytobiomes: The Social Networks of Plants and Microbes - Saturday, October 1, 2016

Faculty coordinators: Dan Cooley, Marco Keiluweit, Klaus Nüsslein, Dong Wang and PB PhD graduate student, Elisha Allan-Perkins.

"The Interconnected Rhizosphere"

"There’s an Iota in Microbiota: Stories of life and scale in the phyllosphere."

PAUL SCHULZE-LEFERT - Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research, Germany
"Reductionist approaches to define plant microbiota functions"

LINDA KINKEL - University of Minnesota
"Diffuse symbioses: Competition, coevolution, and pathogen suppression in the rhizosphere"

KELLY CRAVEN - Noble Foundation
"Harnessing the Microbiome for Agricultural Sustainability in Bioenergy-based Systems"


Biodiversity of Plant Secondary Metabolites — From Pathways to Ecosystems - Saturday, October 3, 2015

Faculty coordinators: Elizabeth Vierling, Li-Jun Ma, and Jennifer Normanly

PHYLLIS COLEY - Biology Department, University of Utah
"The ecology and evolution of plant secondary metabolites in a tropical rainforest"

DAVID GANG - Institute of Biological Chemistry, Washington State University
"Organization, structure and regulation of specialized metabolic networks: Useful insights for medicinal plant and biofuel research"

SARAH O'CONNOR - The John Innes Centre, Department of Biological Chemistry, Norwich, UK
"Elucidating and Engineering Plant Alkaloid Pathways"

LLOYD SUMNER - Noble Foundation / University of Missouri 
"Exploiting Biochemical Diversity in Medicago truncatula for the Discovery of Plant Specialized Metabolism"

JING-KE WENG - Whitehead Institute & Department of Biology, MIT
"Mechanistic basis of metabolic evolution in plants" 

Evolution of Plant Form and Function: Insights from the Integration of Development, Ecology and Genetics - Saturday, October 11, 2014

Faculty coordinators: Madelaine Bartlett and Jill Preston, UVM

LENA HILEMAN - Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Kansas
"Investigating genetic mechanisms underlying repeated patterns of floral evolution"

CLINTON WHIPPLE - Department of Biology, Brigham Young University
"Bract suppression in the grasses: evolution of a novel developmental regulatory network" 

BEN BLACKMAN - Department of Biology, University of Virginia
"Bridging genes to the environment in the evolution of developmental plasticity"

STACEY SMITH - Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado Boulder
"Evolutionary mechanisms of convergent flower color transitions"

PETER LINDER -Institute of Systematic Botany, University of Zurich, Switzerland
"Morphologies, phylogenies, and radiations: when is the evolution of a new morphology successful?"

Going the distance: Integration of Long Distance Signals in Plants - Saturday, October 5, 2013

Faculty coordinators: Elsbeth Walker and Tobias Baskin

ROBERT TURGEON - Department of Plant Biology, Cornell University
"Why is there more than one mechanism of phloem loading?"

FRIEDRICH KRAGLER - Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology, Germany
"Long-distance transport of RNA molecules - identity, destiny and transport motifs"

LESLIE SIEBURTH - Department of Biology, University of Utah
"A long-distance signaling pathway unveiled by the Arabidopsis bypass1 mutant."

PRADEEP KACHROO - Department of Plant Pathology, University of Kentucky
"Systemic signaling in plant defense"

MECHTHILD TEGEDER - School of Biological Sciences, Washington State University
"Source to sink transport of organic nitrogen in plants"

War or Peace? Interactions between plants and microbes - Saturday, October 6, 2012

Faculty coordinators: Li-Jun Ma, Dong Wang and Alice Cheung

GRAHAM WALKER - Department of Biology, MIT
"Getting Inside and Living There: Bacterial Functions for Symbiosis"

GREGORY MARTIN - Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, Department of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology, Cornell University
"Attack and defense at the interface of bacterial virulence proteins and plant immunity"

ROGER WISE - USDA-ARS, Dept of Plant Pathology and Microbiology, Iowa State University
"Intersection of eQTL and functional mutagenesis in barley-powdery mildew interactions"

JOHN MANNERS - CSIRO Plant Industry, Australia
"Fusarium pathogenomics: Nasty tales of poisoning, hijacking and disarming the host"

XINNIAN DONG - Biology Department, Duke University
"Dynamic regulation of plant immune responses"

Auxin and Expansion - Saturday/Sunday, October 8th and 9th, 2011

Co-sponsored by the the Plant Biology Graduate Program at UMass Amherst and the Center for Plant Integrative Biology (CPIB), University of Nottingham, UK.

Symposium coordinators - Tobias Baskin, UMass Amherst and Malcolm Bennett, CPIB, Univ. of Nottingham, UK


MALCOLM BENNETT - The Centre for Plant Integrative BiologyUniversity of Nottingham, UK
"Systems analysis of auxin-regulated root gravitropism"

THOMAS GUILFOYLE - Biochemistry, University of Missouri Columbia
"Functional Characterization of Conserved Domains/Motifs in Aux/IAA and ARF Transcription Factors."

MARK ESTELLE - Section of Cell and Developmental Biology, University of California San Diego
"Auxin regulation of hypocotyl growth"

STEPHEN FRY - Institute of Molecular Plant Sciences, University of Edinburgh, UK
"The in-vivo action of enzymes that loosen and tighten the plant cell wall"

JOHN BOYER - Marine Biosciences, University of Delaware
"Cell enlargement, wall deposition, and the role of auxin"

Modeling auxin response and transport pathways

ERIC KRAMER - Simon's Rock College
"Developmental and biophysical constraints on auxin transport"

TEVA VERNOUX - Ecole Normale Supérieure Lyon, FR
"Integration of hormone signaling during morphogenesis at the shoot apical meristem"

LEAH BAND - University of Nottingham, UK
"Modelling auxin transport and signalling in the plant root."

STEFAN KEPINSKI - University of Leeds, UK
"Context, specificity and self-organisation in auxin signalling"

Integrating the auxin response machinery with plant growth and developmental pathways

JACQUES DUMAIS - Harvard University
"Cell Division and Meristem Structure in Land Plants"

BRUNO MOULIA - INRA-Université Blaise Bascal, Clermont Ferrand, FR
"From Plant Gravitropism to Posture Control: what our models of Auxin response networks should explain"

ANJA GEITMANN - University of Montreal
"Why getting in (cell) shape is not trivial - understanding cell biology through mathematical modeling".

TOBIAS BASKIN - University of Massachusetts Amherst
"Up, down, and sideways: Remarks on anisotropic expansion."

Biology Without Borders: Synergies between Plant and Animal Biology - Saturday, October 2, 2010

Faculty symposium coordinators - Magdalena Bezanilla and Danny Schnell


MICHAEL AXTELL - Biology Department, Penn State University
"Evolution and functions of plant microRNAs over long and short time scales"

ERIC LAI - Developmental Biology, Sloan-Kettering Institute
"A diversity of miRNA pathways in flies and vertebrates"

RICHARD VIERSTRA - Department of Genetics, University of Wisconsin Madison
"Atomic perspectives on phytochrome signaling"

MAGDALENA BEZANILLA - Biology Department, University of Massachusetts Amherst
"The role of evolutionarily ancient cytoskeleton gene families in cell polarity"

JAMES BIRCHLER - Division of Biological Sciences, University of Missouri Columbia
"The Gene Balance Hypothesis: Implications for quantitative traits, aneuploid syndromes, dosage compensation and evolutionary processes"

Plant Epigenetics - Saturday, October 3, 2009

Faculty symposium coordinators - Alice Cheung and Sam Hazen


RICHARD AMASINO - Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry, University of Wisconsin-Madison
"Vernalization: remembering winter with an environmentally induced epigenetic switch."

CRAIG PIKAARD - Department of Biology, Indiana University
"Roles of plant-specific RNA polymerases IV and V in siRNA-directed DNA methylation"

VENKATESAN SUNDARESAN - Department of Plant Biology, University of California, Davis
"Patterning and gamete specification in the Arabidopsis female gametophyte"

JOSEPH ECKER - Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory, Salk Institute for Biological Studies
"Charting the Epigenomes of Plants (and People)"

NATHAN SPRINGER - Department of Plant Biology, University of Minnesota
"Natural variation for epigenetic regulation of gene expression in maize."

Ecological Genomics: The Genetic Basis of Plant Adaptation - Saturday, October 18, 2008

Faculty symposium coordinators - Lynn Adler and Ana Caicedo


EDWARD BUCKLER - USDA-ARS Research Geneticist and Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics, Cornell University
"Complex Trait Genetics in Diverse Maize"

SCOTT HODGES - Ecology, Evolution & Marine Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara
"Speciation and adaptation in Aquilegia: from field to genomic studies."

THOMAS MITCHELL-OLDS - Department of Biology, Duke University
"Nucleotide polymorphisms and their ecological consequences in natural plant populations"

ROBERT THORNBURG - Department of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Molecular Biology, Iowa State University
"Molecules of nectar: The food of the gods and the pilfering pollinators"

CYNTHIA WEINIG - Department of Botany & Program in Ecology, University of Wyoming
"Quantitative variation in circadian rhythms and plant adaptation to heterogeneous environments"

STEPHEN WRIGHT - Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto
"Population genomics of plant adaptation in Arabidopsis and Capsella"

Plant Biology and Bioenergy Saturday, October 13, 2007

Faculty symposium coordinators - Danny Schnell and Jennifer Normanly


FREDERICK AUSUBEL - Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital
"Pseudomonas aeruginosa - Arabidopsis interactions as a model to study plant cell wall degradation"

DANIEL J. COSGROVE Pennsylvania State University
"Wall loosening by expansins"

STEPHEN J. LONG - National Center for Supercomputing Applications, and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
"Achieving environmentally and economically viable biofuel feedstock crops. Why improvement of photosynthetic efficiency is critical and attainable."

CHRIS SOMERVILLE - Carnegie Institution and Stanford University
"Cellulose synthesis"

KENNETH P. VOGEL - USDA-ARS and University of Nebraska, Lincoln
"Switchgrass: Ecology, Biology, Genetics, and Agronomics of an Emerging Energy Crop"

SUSAN LESCHINE - University of Massachusetts, Amherst
"A novel microbial catalyst for converting biomass to ethanol "

Phytoextraction of Nutrients and PollutantsSaturday, October 14, 2006

Faculty symposium coordinators - Om Parkash and Elsbeth Walker


NEIL BRUCE - University of York, UK
"Engineering plants for the phytoremediation of explosives"

NIGEL CRAWFORD - University of California, San Diego
"Genomic Studies of Nitrate, a Potent Signal, Phytonutrient and Pollutant"

RICHARD MEAGHER - University of Georgia, Athens
"Engineering plants to clean up mercury and arsenic pollution"

ELIZABETH PILON-SMITS - Colorado State University, Fort Collins
"Plant Selenium Metabolism and Phytoremediation"

PHILIP REA - University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
"Phytochelatin synthase and its cousin papain - a question of catalytic bias"

ELSBETH WALKER - University of Massachusetts, Amherst
"Moving metals from soil to seed"

Chemical Plants: Manipulating Plant Metabolism to Improve Health and NutritionSaturday, October 13, 2005, UMass Amherst

Faculty symposium coordinators - Elsbeth Walker, Jennifer Normanly and Susan Roberts.


DEAN DELLAPENNA, Michigan State University
"Vitamin E Synthesis in Photosynthetic Organisms or Is it possible to do well and good in your research at the same time?"

HARRY KLEE, University of Florida
"Molecular approaches to understanding complex traits: tomato flavor and nutritional quality"

"Targeted Metabolic Engineering for Enhancement of Paclitaxel Accumulation in Plant Cell Culture"

DAVID SALT, Purdue University
"Genetic Manipulation of Selenium Speciation in Plants"

YAIR SHACHAR-HILL, Michigan State University
"Mapping fluxes through plant metabolic networks"

BRENDA WINKEL, Virginia Polytechnic Institute
"How do they do that?  Evidence for assembly of flavonoid enzyme complexes at the endoplasmic reticulum AND in the nucleus."

Function and Fate in Plants: Physiological Traits and Ecological Success, Saturday, October 2, 2004 - Smith College

Faculty symposium coordinators - Peter Alpert and Tobias Baskin


BILL DAVIES, Lancaster University, UK
"Long distance chemical signalling from soil to roots to shoots and the regulation of water use"

"Signaling and sharing between connected plants within clones"

JOHANNA SCHMITT, Brown University
"Ecological genomics of seasonal timing and adaptation to climate in Arabidopsis thaliana"

FRANK BERENDSE, Wageningen University, The Netherlands
"Soil fertility, plant species, and long-term community dynamics"

PETER REICH, University of Minnesota
"Causes and consequences of plant functional diversity: from dappled understory to global change"

PHIL GRIME, Sheffield University, UK
"Plant strategy theory:1974 and 2004"

Cellular Signaling in Growth and Development- Saturday, October 4th, 2003 - Smith College

Faculty symposium coordinators - Danny Schnell and Alice Cheung

JOANNE CHORY, Salk Institute
"Light, brassinosteroids, and Arabidopsis development"

JUNE NASRALLAH, Cornell University
"Receptor-ligand interactions in the self-incompatibility response of crucifers"

PETER QUAIL, University of California, Berkeley
"Phytochrome photosensory signaling networks"

SALLY ASSMANN, Penn State University
"Abscisic acid signal transduction in guard cells"

NAM-HAI CHUA, Rockefeller University
"Roles of ubiquitination and sumoylation in plant signaling networks"

PETER HEPLER, University of Massachusetts Amherst
"Actin/ion interactions in the control of pollen tube growth"

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