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Genetics conference adds avocado session

The annual Plant and Animal Genome conference added an avocado

session for its 2010 convention January 9-13 in San Diego, and the January 10 session was considered a success by its organizer.

“I think it went well,” said Dr. Livia Tommasini of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California, Irvine.

The session included six presentations which were given by researchers representing the USDA-ARS Subtropical Horticulture Research Station, the University of Florida (which provided two presentations), Mexico’s Centro De Investigacion y de Estudios Avanzados del IPN, the University of California’s Irvine campus, and Spain’s Estacion Experimental la Mayora CSIC. More than 50 conference registrants attended the session.

The International Conference on the Status of Plant and Animal Genome Research has been held annually in San Diego since 1993. Applications of the genetic research include injury and illness reduction and performance enhancement for animals and increased yield, improved flavor, and disease and climate resistance for plant species and varietals. Although the applications are the purpose of the genetic research, genome mapping is a prerequisite before specific traits can be associated with specific genes.

The process of adding a plant or animal genus or species session to the conference involves contacting the organizers and providing a potential program for the session along with participants who are willing to present at the session. “I knew that there was a need, that avocado genetics would find a forum,” Tommasini said. “That would ensure collaboration between avocado geneticists.”

The benefits of professional conferences include not only the information provided during presentations and poster board sessions but also the opportunity for attendees to learn about each other and collaborate on current or future projects.

The collaboration possibilities include cross-discipline assistance; while avocados aren’t part of upstate New York’s agriculture, the floral and pollination expertise of Victor Albert from the State University of New York at Buffalo assisted the research of some of the presenters.

Tommasini herself is originally from the northern Italy town of Como, which is not an avocado-growing region, and began her genetic research with grains prior to transitioning to citrus and eventually avocados. She began her avocado research approximately 1 1/2 years ago at Irvine while working with Mike Clegg, who has been researching avocado genetics for two decades.

Less than 10 percent of the world’s avocados are grown in the United States, and Mexico is the world’s leading avocado producer. The three main genetic branches of avocados are Mexican, Guatemalan, and “West Indies” (actually southern Guatemala), and many of the world’s varietals - including most of the varietals grown in the United States - are hybrids of those three branches.

The audience at the avocado workshop was smaller than that at more established sessions or at workshops for crops such as wheat, which have more researchers, but Tommasini noted that benefits of the workshop also included the question and answer activity following the presentations. The updates on results and other unpublished research will allow other geneticists to use that information to advance their own research.

Although six oral presentations were provided, only one poster presentation featured avocados. Tommasini was the lead author on “Linking Candidate Genes to Biochemical Phenotypes in Avocado,” which had nine additional Irvine contributors including Clegg.

While the conference was a gathering of scientists and other analysts, the California Avocado Commission has provided funding for avocado genetic research and Tommasini has been in contact with the CAC. “The growers that are there are very well

educated,” she said. “It’s good that they know that this is going on.”

In addition to improving fruit quality, the CAC hopes that the research will help the state’s industry market new varietals.

For Tommasini, the session was so sufficiently successful that she expects another workshop at the 2011 Plant and Animal Genome conference. “I think it will continue,” she said.

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