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53rd Annual Meeting of Phytochemists Comes to N.C. State

The Phytochemical Society of North America (PSNA) has been gathering together annually for 53 years, and this year, for the first time, that meeting was held at N.C. State University, near Research Triangle Park.

Dr. Deyu Xie of the university’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences organized the 2014 event. Xie, an associate professor in the CALS Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, also served as chair of two of the symposia during the five-day conference, held Aug. 9-13 at the McKimmon Center.

CALS Dean Richard Linton welcomed the approximately 200 North American scientists and PSNA members in attendance. Also participating from CALS were keynote speakers Dr. Amy Grunden, professor of microbiology and University Faculty Scholar, and Dr. Jose Alonso, professor of genetics and University Faculty Scholar, both from the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology.

Phytochemistry is the study of chemicals derived from plants and the metabolic compounds found in plants. It includes applied plant chemistry, genomics, metabolomics, synthetic biology and plant physiology research related to new drug discovery, functional food nutrients, biofuel chemicals and more.

Researchers and academicians from phytochemicals-related disciplines assembled at the conference to share their research successes. Xie said that the annual meeting draws scientists from the areas of medicinal chemistry, biosynthesis, metabolic engineering and agriculture, as well as those who study pathogens, metabolomics, genomics, systems biology, synthetic biology and medicinal plants.

Dr. Deyu Xie, event organizer, speaks at the PSNA's 53rd annual meeting.
Dr. Deyu Xie, event organizer, speaks at the PSNA’s 53rd annual meeting at N.C. State.

“PSNA is a nonprofit scientific organization whose membership is open to anyone with an interest in phytochemistry and the role of plant substances in related fields,” said Xie. “Annual meetings featuring symposium topics of current interest and contributed papers by conference participants are held throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe, Asia and Australia. PSNA meetings provide participants with exposure to the cutting-edge research of prominent international scientists but are still small enough to offer informality and intimacy that are conducive to the exchange of ideas.”

Among those sharing research findings were Grunden and Alonso, who were two of more than 60 invited speakers and oral presenters giving lectures at the conference.

Alonso is one of the top scientists in the world in the plant auxin research area. He was recently named one of the most cited plant and animal scientists over the past decade. On Aug. 11 at the conference, he gave a lecture entitled “Auxin Biosynthesis and Its Regulation.” He described his recent groundbreaking discoveries at N.C. State, which have led to revision of how the auxin biosynthesis mechanism is portrayed in plant physiology textbooks.

Grunden is an expert in extremophiles, or micro-organisms that survive the Earth’s most extreme environments. She conducts research on microbes to enhance renewable energy production and has collaborated on a patented process for producing enzymes in algae for industrial use. During the conference’s Aug. 12 symposium on Renewable Petro Biofuel from Plants (which was co-chaired by Xie), Grunden discussed her research on the flowering oilseed crop plant Camelina sativa. In her presentation, “Increasing Photosynthetic CO2 Capture in Camelina sativa with a Synthetic Carbon Fixation Cycle Composed of Selected Microbial Enzymes,” she explained research processes undertaken to improve biomass production in the plant.

CALS Dean Richard Linton welcomes PSNA members to the N.C. State campus.
CALS Dean Richard Linton welcomes PSNA members to the N.C. State campus.

Other conference symposia topics included Plant Metabolic Biology, Biosynthesis of Plant Natural Products, Plant Metabolomics, Plant Synthetic Biology, Plant Systems Biology, Biosynthesis of Plant Natural Products, Botanical Medicines, and Phytochemicals, Crops and Agriculture. The conference also included a research poster section and nightly receptions.

At the conference banquet, PSNA recognized student and postdoc winners in oral and poster presentations, one society’s Neish Award winner, one Young Investigator Award winner and other PSNA awardees.

The conference itself received accolades from Franck Dayan, PSNA president, who called the 53rd annual meeting in Raleigh “very successful” and praised Xie’s leadership of the event, saying, “You obviously put a lot of thoughts and invested many hours into the organization of this program.”

Dayan expressed appreciation for the many opportunities for students and junior scientists to give oral presentations and for the balance between the number of male and female presenters.

“Many of the students commented to me how they enjoyed talking to the ‘famous’ scientists in our midst. The young investigator luncheon also provided a superb opportunity for young scientists to interact with giants in phytochemistry,” said Dayan, who found the conference program “well balanced with several established scientists and rising stars having the opportunity to present longer lectures.”

Said Xie, such a meeting and sharing of research is “essential to strengthen the PSNA and research in understanding phytochemicals – the gifts of Mother Nature.” – Terri Leith