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Genomic Approaches to Crop Improvement in Vanilla planifolia: an International Progress Report 

Sharman D. O'Neill, Ph.D.

University of California, Davis

Davis, CA  

This presentation will describe the overall strategy and key steps being taken in an international initiative to develop the genomic resources of Vanilla planifolia for use in crop improvement and sustainable agriculture. The initiative brings together a multidisciplinary team with complementary expertise in molecular biology and genetics, genomics, orchid biology and evolutionary phylogeny, anthropology, sustainable agriculture and biodiversity conservation.  The combined efforts of the US team (University of California, Davis with USDA-ARS Pacific Basic Area Research Center, Hawaii) and the Indian Ocean- France UMR PVBMT team (Unite Mixte de Recherche: Université de La Réunion and Centre de Coorpération International en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement) represents a new innovative partnership with unprecedented synergy and the integration of plant breeding and genomics for new gene discovery made possible by Next Generation Sequencing (NGS). The rationale for using NGS to understand the genetic constitution of agriculturally-important Vanilla lines and improved germplasm will be presented.  Targets of NGS efforts include self pollination, improved fruit quality, faster flowering-fruit development cycles, and disease resistance.  The roles of academic, scientific and non-profit research organizations, government organizations, biodiversity conservation programs, individual scientists and orchid experts, and small-farmer community groups will be discussed in the context of developing, assessing, and utilizing Vanilla genomic resources. The vertically-integrated strategy to translate genetically-improved Vanilla lines generated by a combination of traditional plant breeding and genome-enabled technology into concrete benefits for the small farmer on islands of the Indian Ocean, especially Madagascar, and later tropical regions worldwide, will be presented.   

Dr. Sharman D. O'Neill is Professor of Biological Sciences, within the Department of Plant Biology, College of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Davis.  She holds a Ph.D. degree in Plant Biology from Cornell University, a Masters of Arts degree in Biology from Smith College, and a Bachelor of Arts dual degree in Philosophy and English Literature from the University of Massachusetts.  Dr. O’Neill and her laboratory conduct research in the area of the molecular biology, genetics, and genomics of reproduction in orchid flowers, with an emphasis on understanding meristem, ovule, ovary, fruit, seed and embryo development.  Currently, Dr. O’Neill is investigating the molecular basis of flower and fruit development in Vanilla planifolia, with comparison to Phalaenopsis cultivars important to the ornamental horticulture industry