Research symposium highlights evolution of life sciences

From evolution to the economy, the “Stewards of the Future: Research for Human Health and Global Sustainability” conference covered an array of topics and drew more than 400 participants representing science, industry and academia.

Produced by the North Carolina Agricultural and Life Sciences Foundation, with major support from lead sponsors Bayer CropScience and BASF, the April 17 conference was designed to foster research collaborations in the agricultural and life sciences to meet urgent challenges to human health, the environment, social well-being and the global economy.

In his morning keynote address, “A New Biology for the 21st Century,” Dr. Phillip A. Sharp, Nobel Laureate and Institute Professor at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, described how the evolution of biological science has happened on the MIT campus and its impact on the surrounding community.

At the start of his remarks, Sharp said, “I’m really blown away by what North Carolina is investing in health science and life science … you should be really able in the next 10 to 20 years to become the leading life science community in the country.”

He went on to describe the new biology concept, saying, “The take-home message, the bottom line take-home message that you should think about is the following: Life science is a very new science.”

Before Juan Enriquez took the podium for the afternoon keynote address, conference participants engaged with a panel of industry leaders on “Corporate and Institutional Sustainability Strategies,” interacted with College of Agriculture and Life Sciences researchers showcasing their work in the Innovation Fair and listened to an economic forecast by William Neal Reynolds Professor and Extension economist Dr. Mike Walden.

Enriquez, managing director of Excel Venture Management, challenged the audience to rethink the evolution of creation in his talk, “Homo Evolutis.”

“For better or worse, what we’re seeing is that we’re beginning to take direct and deliberate control over the evolution of bacteria, plants, animals and ourselves … and that makes us a fundamentally different creature than Homo sapiens who are simply aware of their existence,” he said during the mind-bending presentation. “We’re calling it ‘Homo evolutis.’”

The conference closed with the announcement of award winners. Dr. Ignazio Carbone and Rodrigo Olarte, both of the CALS Department of Plant Pathology, won the Outstanding Faculty and Student Research Awards, respectively. The winning Innovation Fair exhibits were as follows:

  • First place: Jet Fuel from Camelina at NCSU: A Systems Approach, Department of Plant Biology
  • Second place: Weaving the Wisdom of Nature into the Web of Life & Genetic Pest Management, Department of Entomology
  • Third place: Advances in Safeguarding Water Supplies, Department of Plant Biology

— Suzanne Stanard

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