EEB graduate student Sara Colom presents her research.

The 2017 Green Life Science Symposium at the University of Michigan brought together national and international experts in green life sciences to discuss the latest developments in genetically modified organisms. The keynote speaker was Dr. Cornelius Barry of the Department of Horticulture, Michigan State University. People from a wide variety of fields convened on the Ann Arbor central campus for an exciting exchange of the latest science developments and fostered potential for interdepartmental multidisciplinary collaborations.

“U-M has a diverse program in green life science disciplines,” said EEB Professor Yin-Long (YQ) Qiu, who chaired the organizing committee. “Collaboration among faculty from different departments and colleges will help us to build our critical mass of undergraduate and graduate students in this important area of life sciences.

“While basic science is very important and strong at U-M, bridging the gap between basic and applied sciences in health and environmental sciences will lead our program to a new height,” continued Qiu. “Interdisciplinary research spanning both basic science and applied sciences in health and environmental sciences represents a direction to develop strength in our research program and to establish popular teaching curricula.

"I found Duxin Sun's talk on use of broccoli as functional foods for cancer patients was really interesting. Sasha Preuss' presentation on modern agriculture and society broadened our understanding of the agro-biotech industry. Corny Barry's presentation on plant science teaching and training at MSU should inform us of reforming our undergrad major in plant biology.”

Common themes that emerged from the symposium, according to one of the speakers, Lauren Schmitt, graduate student, U-M School for Environment and Sustainability, were “the need for cross disciplinary conversation and collaboration and the surprising breadth of green life science already taking place on campus.

“I enjoyed hearing about Sara Colom’s research on character displacement in root traits that is taking place at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens,” Schmitt said. Colom is a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology. “Dr. Dixun Sun’s presentation on broccoli as a functional food to treat cancer had me considering how much broccoli I am eating — and how I prepare it.

Symposium attendees and speakers share ideas during the morning break.

“In his introduction, YQ highlighted that the definition of green life science includes questions that consider impact on society,” Schmitt continued. “I hope that green life science will continue to engage more and more outside of academia and across traditional disciplinary boundaries within universities.

“Research in green life science is taking place in many departments and schools across campus. The symposium was an opportunity to hear about the work taking place in other corners of campus as well as off campus in governmental or industry settings. It was also
interesting to hear about the work taking place at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and the Herbarium. Both are valuable, and likely underutilized resources.

“I appreciated the opportunity to talk about green life science with scientists working in industry. As a graduate student, my mentors are almost exclusively academics, so it was a good opportunity to hear a different perspective.”

“I thought the event was a great opportunity to talk with plant-based researchers across a range of disciplines and think about the connections between basic and applied research,” said EEB Professor Chris Dick, who is associate chair for museum collections, U-M Herbarium and U-M Museum of Zoology. “It gave grad students a chance to interact with scientists from government and industry, as well as from schools outside of LSA.”

Plans for future Green Life Science Symposiums are being discussed. The organizing committee included: Steven Beuder and Jonathon Combs, graduate students, MCDB; and MCDB and EEB Professor Steven Clark.

Green life forms – plants, algae, and microbes – are integral components of the earth biosystem, and they are essential to human existence. From the dawn of our civilization, they have been subjects of human intellectual inquiry for practical, artistic and spiritual needs. With the rapid development of inter-disciplinarity in sciences over the last half century, botany, the science that studies green life forms, has metamorphosized into green life science, with several sub-disciplines specializing in study of forms, functions, genetics, ecology and evolution.

Above and beyond the symposium, the U-M Green Life Science Initiative is a faculty-sponsored effort that is supported by various departments and units at University of Michigan. Its main aim is to integrate green life sciences on the campus, which investigate forms, functions, genetics, ecology and evolution of green life forms: plants, algae and microbes.

Special thanks for symposium coordination to: Carol Solomon, Anna Cihak, Gail Kuhnlein, John Megahan and Alex Taylor.

The Green Life Sciences Symposium presentations are available to watch on EEB’s YouTube channel.

Compiled by Gail Kuhnlein