I particularly enjoy camping, canoeing and playing jug band music with old friends – especially when we combine all three into our annual trips! I love watching a good soccer match and, in warmer months, coaching kids in baseball and soccer.
Tell us about your journey/career path that led you to your current role at DuPont Pioneer.
When I was a teenager, one of my older sisters was the first hard-core scientist in the family. She studied chemistry and neurobiology at the University of Maryland and then at Cornell Medical in Manhattan. I used to visit her laboratories and talk science with her, and she would introduce me to colleagues. I found that atmosphere very alluring, where people seemed to be having fun and doing very complex things together. She was my scientific inspiration then and is my best mentor now.
I first earned bachelor’s degrees in biology and chemistry from Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York, and then joined the Department of Energy (DOE) – Plant Research Laboratory at Michigan State University for a doctorate in biochemistry. After schooling, a post-doctoral position with DuPont Pioneer was my first “real job” over 24 years ago. Ever since, I’ve had a lasting immersion in maize (corn) genetics and genomics.
What do you love most about your job?
I believe the corn plant sits atop civilization’s greatest feats of domestication in agriculture, and I consider it a privilege to participate in a tradition started by agrarians from Mexico, many thousands of years ago!
Tell us more about your role applying CRISPR-Cas to develop sustainable agricultural solutions.
Thanks to broad support across DuPont, I’m fully engaged in preparing for the launch of our flagship CRISPR-Cas product, next generation waxy corn hybrids, and going to market as nimbly as possible. In 2017, we are taking CRISPR-Cas waxy corn products to the field to begin rigorous testing across our broad network of North American locations.
What excites you most about CRISPR-Cas and what it can do?
As someone using a variety of genetic approaches to discover what various maize genes do, and how they contribute to crop performance, it is the precision of CRISPR-Cas that excites me most. Plant biologists have never had a tool like this before where it is possible to design and achieve targeted and desirable changes in plant characteristics so directly. And the technology continues to improve, meaning that even greater precision will be realized, along with a flexibility that will help us imagine solutions to the many global imperatives we face in agriculture.
What is the one thing you want the world to know about CRISPR-Cas?
With a progressive dialogue, CRISPR-Cas can form an incredible bridge, where literally the same technique can have a meaningful impact on human medicine, crop and livestock agriculture, and biological discovery. That opportunity just doesn’t come around often – if at all. I see great evidence in favor of unified engagement, and we need to work together – across all disciplines – to, as we say in our team, “Inform the Forward Problem.”