My turn!

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Anastasia and James look like they have had a fun and scientifically enlightening trip to Italy to attend the Maize Genetics Conference. Frank was also there, but appears to have parted ways with them – off on some other adventure, I imagine. When they mentioned last year at the MGC that this year’s conference would be in Italy, I salivated and dreamed of the reams of data I would pile up to earn a ticket on the lab’s dollar. But no, I did not go to this year’s conference, except in name. (We had an official Biofortified poster that Anastasia and I put together, hoping for some new phloem for these here inter-sieve-tubes.)

I must say that I’m a bit jealous about missing out on all the science – conferences are great ways to cram your brain with the latest research and the directions the field is taking. The science is the same whether you are in Italy, or Illinois, Washington D.C., or even places as remote as… the capital of Wisconsin. I’m hoping to absorb half of what they retained by reading their excellent summaries.

But then again, they went to Italy! I’ve never been to Europe before. Heck I haven’t been out of North America unless you count the Hawaiian Islands. So I would be forlorn about that, if I wasn’t getting on a plane this morning and flying to Thailand!

Last fall, Syngenta approached the UW-Madison plant breeding program to send a few graduate students out to some of their breeding stations to see what it is like doing commercial breeding for a week. I applied, and was selected along with two of my fellow students to go to Thailand and Chile to represent the UW and report back to everyone on what it was like. One by one, though, everyone else’s trips dropped like flies for unforeseeable reasons. As you can imagine with two big earthquakes in Chile, that trip got a little more risky than the program would have liked. Long story short: Last man standing.

I will be shadowing Xingping Zhang, a breeder who is credited with creating those little personal-sized ‘Dulcinea‘ seedless watermelons that you probably have eaten. I get to follow him around in the sweltering 100-degree March Thailand weather and do some top secret* things like thump on some rinds to see if the insides are ready to taste. Maybe I’ll get to taste some, too. Who knows what crazy things I might find lurking in those fields? And who knows what I might actually get to tell/show you?*

In just a few short dozens (as in multiples of a dozen) of hours of sitting in planes and airports, I’m going to be 12 time zones away (by daylight savings time) doing Darwin knows what!** My turn to have some fun!

*Yep there’s a confidentiality agreement. They apparently own ideas I haven’t even thought of yet, too. But not everything’s a secret and maybe there are some things my hosts will let me talk about.

** Why, artificial selection of course.

Follow Karl Haro von Mogel:
Karl earned his Ph.D. in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics at UW-Madison, with a minor in Life Science Communication. His dissertation was on both the genetics of sweet corn and plant genetics outreach. He recently moved back to his home state of California. His favorite produce might just be squash.