Opening Plenary Lecture: VICTOR VERLAGE

Senior Director of Resilient Sourcing at Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
Business and Agriculture strategy to secure long term food supply for Walmart’s growth demand plans. Promoting innovation, freshness and flavor in food supply chains to delight Walmart’s customers.


Click on tabs below to view keynote speaker photos and bios

Genetic ResourcesProduction and QualityFloral & Fruit DevelopmentBiotic StressGenomics Breeding and GeneticsBreeding for Resistance

Genetic Resources

Chairperson: Harry Paris

Thomas Andres
Honorary Research Associate, The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY; Visiting Scientist, Cornell University Long Island Horticultural Research & Extension Center
TALK TITLE: “Diversity of lesser known cultivated Cucurbita from Latin America: Landraces to locally grown cultivars
Thomas Andres studied the taxonomy of the Texas gourd (Cucurbita pepo ssp. texana) under Hugh Wilson at Texas A&M University and did research on Cucurbita ficifolia with Richard W. Robinson at Cornell University. Presently, Thomas is an Honorary Research Associate at The New York Botanical Garden and a visiting scientist at Cornell University Long Island Horticultural Research & Extension Center. He has conducted field investigations on cucurbits in six countries in South America, Panama, and Mexico, and presented talks or posters on cucurbits in Pasto, Colombia; Quito and Guayaquil, Ecuador; and Trujillo, Peru. In addition, he is an avid photographer.


Production and Quality

Chairperson: Johnathan Schultheis

Robert Hassell
Assistant Station Director, Professor-Vegetable Physiology, Vegetable Extension Specialist, Coastal Research & Education Center, Clemson University
TALK TITLE: “Challenges and opportunities using grafted cucurbit plants
Robert Hassell is the Assistant Director of the Clemson University Coastal Research and Education Center and Professor in the Plant and Environmental Sciences Department located
in Charleston South Carolina. Currently he is the Extension Vegetable Specialist for South Carolina with his research focus on grafting of cucurbits which focus on making grafting affordable for the US Vegetable grower. For the last 10 years he has been a co-project director of two funded USDA Specialty Crops Grants dealing with grafting of vegetable plants with the current grant “Growing new roots: Grafting to enhance resiliency in U.S. vegetable industries” where he serves as director or the cucurbit grafting team. Along with publishing a number of research papers on cucurbit grafting, in January of 2014 he received a United States Patent “Methods and Compositions for the Inhibition of Meristematic Growth of Cucurbit Rootstock” and in 2018 (as a co-inventor) applied for a PVP on the first ever US rootstock “Carolina Strongback” (developed by the USDA-ARS, Charleston South Carolina). He has made trips to South Korea, China, Taiwan, Japan, Israel and Australia learning as well as sharing ideas on way of improving cucurbit grafting. His current research is concentration on developing a method of producing consistent rootstock and scion plant material in a controlled environment to product reliable grafted plants.


Floral & Fruit Development

Chairperson: Li Li

Amit Gur
Researcher, Newe Ya’ar research Center, ARO, Isreal
Amit Gur earned his Ph.D in Genetics and Plant Breeding from the Hebrew University (2004), where he worked with Prof. Dani Zamir on tomato genetics. He then occupied a post-doctoral position at Cornell University studying corn genetics (2005-2007). From 2008 to 2015, he held a geneticist position at Monsanto vegetable division in Israel. Since 2015 he is a researcher at the Agricultural Research Organization (ARO) and located at the northern center at Newe-Yaar, where he is a part of the cucurbits research unit. His group is working on genetics of yield and fruit quality traits in melon, watermelon and squash.

Christopher Hernandez
Graduate Student Researcher, Plant Breeding and Genetics Section, School of Integrative Plant Science, Cornell University
Christopher Hernandez: bio info coming soon.

Biotic Stress

Chairperson: William Wintermantel

Nathalie Boissot
Génétique et Amélioration des Fruits et Légumes, INRA, Montfavet, France
TALK TITLE: “Aphid triggered immunity in melon: key determinants for durable resistance to virus and aphids
Nathalie Boissot has been working in Avignon (France) at the INRA Unit for Genetics and Breeding of fruit and vegetables (GAFL) since 2002. She earned her PhD degree in Plant Sciences in 1990 from the South Paris University where she studied in vitro plant regeneration in rice. Then, she undertook a post-doctoral year in breeding rice for resistance to blast at the International Rice Research institute in the Philippines. When she joined INRA in 1992, she switched to working on vegetable crops, specializing in resistance to insects. For several years she worked overseas in La Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean and Guadeloupe Island in the French West Indies, both islands that offer an excellent ‘playing field’ to investigate efficiency of plant resistance in different agro-ecological environments. At that time she specialized in resistance to Hemipterans and their transmitted viruses. When she joined GAFL, she became part of the team working on plant resistance durability and focused on the trio Melon/Aphis gossypii/viruses, taking advantage of fruitful research initiated by Michel Pitrat and Hervé Lecoq. She aims to understand plant resistance, from genetic architecture to effects in the field, bringing together entomologists, virologists, geneticists and modelling to investigate key determinants of plant resistance durability.

Gabriel Rennberger
Clemson University, Charleston, SC
TALK TITLE: “Diversity and Pathogenicity on Watermelon of Six New Fungal Species in the Family Stachybotriaceae
Gabriel Rennberger grew up on a farm in Lower Bavaria, Germany, where his family grows wheat, corn, sugar beets and pickling cucumbers. Gabriel received a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Science from the Technical University of Munich in 2012. Due to his background in cucumber production he conducted fungicide trials for the control of gummy stem blight in cucumbers for his bachelor’s thesis. He continued at the Technical University of Munich with a Master of Science in Agricultural Science with a focus on Plant Sciences. During his master’s Gabriel spent an exchange semester at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Medellín, Columbia, where he completed courses in plant sciences. For his master’s thesis he worked on differential susceptibility of cucurbits to gummy stem blight. Gabriel graduated in 2015 and started a doctoral program with Dr. Anthony P. Keinath at Clemson University’s Coastal Research and Education Center in Charleston, South Carolina. During his Ph.D. he has mainly worked on foliar fungal diseases of cucurbits, especially gummy stem blight, powdery mildew and Myrothecium leaf blight. He received the Thomas Heyward Jr. Fellowship from the South Carolina Agricultural Society and in June 2018 an APS Foundation Student Travel Award. Gabriel will graduate with his Ph.D. in Plant and Environmental Sciences in December 2018.


Chairperson: Jordi Garcia-Mas

Rebecca Grumet
Professor, Department of Horticulture, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Michigan State University
TALK TITLE: “The CucCAP project: Genomic tools and resources to facilitate breeding for disease resistance in cucurbits
Rebecca Grumet is a Professor in the Department of Horticulture and the Graduate Program in Plant Breeding, Genetics and Biotechnology. She is a W.H. Beal Outstanding Faculty at Michigan State University and a Fellow of the American Society for Horticultural Science. Her research deals with vegetable genetics and genomics, with a primary emphasis on cucurbit flower and fruit development and disease resistance. She is currently the lead PI, along with 20 co-PIs, for the USDA-SCRI CucCAP project: CucCAP: Leveraging applied genomics to increase disease resistance in cucurbit crops ( also has performed research, teaching and outreach in the area of biotechnology biosafety working both nationally and internationally through USDA-, USAID-, and Bill and Melinda Gate’s Foundation-funded projects regarding risk assessment for transgenic crops. R. Grumet has authored or co-authored more than 100 papers, was the lead editor for a book published in 2011 on ‘Environmental Safety of Genetically Engineered Crops’, and in 2017 for ‘Genetics and Genomics of Cucurbitaceae’ along with J. Garcia-Mas and N. Katzir. R. Grumet has a B.S. degree from Cornell University, M.S. and Ph.D. from Michigan State University, and was the recipient of a North Carolina Biotechnology Postdoctoral Fellowship in Plant Molecular Biology at Duke University.

Shan Wu
Post-Doctoral Researcher, Boyce Thompson Institute, School of Integrative Plant Science, Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology Section, Cornell University
TALK TITLE: “Pan-genomes of the Citrullus species
Shan Wu obtained her bachelors degree in Horticulture from China Agricultural University (China) in 2007, and her PhD in 2015 from the Ohio State University, where she studied tomato fruit development in the van der Knaap lab, before she joined the Fei lab at the Boyce Thompson Institute as a postdoc researcher (2015-now) to develop genomic resources that facilitate crop improvement. She has contributed to generating high-quality reference genomes for important crops, including sweetpotato, pumpkin and bottle gourd, which are being used to accelerate the process of breeding. She is also interested in investigating genomes to improve our understanding of the evolution and domestication of crop species.

Breeding and Genetics

Chairperson: Amnon Levi

Yong Xu
Research Professor and Director, National Engineering Research Center for Vegetables, Beijing Academy of Agriculture and Forestry Sciences, Key Laboratory of Biology and Genetic Improvement of Horticultural Crops (North China), Beijing, China
TALK TITLE: “Watermelon whole genome and variation
Yong Xu is a Research Professor and Director at the National Engineering Research Center for Vegetables (NERCV), Beijing Academy of Agriculture and Forestry Sciences (BAAFS),China since 2004. He is a Lecturer of Horticulture at China Agricultural University since 1989. He earned his M.S. (1989) from China Agricultural University and Ph.D. (1999) degrees in Zhejiang University, China. He joined NERCV, Beijing in 1994, as an assistant scientist, to take over a watermelon breeding PI position. He then, served as the head of NERCV since 2004. He led and coordinated the “International Watermelon Genome Initiative (IWGI)”, funded by the China Science and Technology Department (2010-2015) and included more than 40 scientists from China, USA, France and Israel and published the first draft genome of watermelon in Nature Genetics in 2012. He is a member of academic board of China Agricultural Academy since 2016 and is the chief scientist of Watermelon and Melon Industry, China Agricultural Research System (CARS) since 2011. He is also serving as the chair of Vegetable Subcommittee, China National Seed Association (Vegseed-CNSA) since 2014. He received the awards “Beijing Scholar” from the Beijing government in 2015 and entered “Ten thousand people plan” of China government. His research spans over diverse areas of cucurbit genetics and breeding, with a strong emphasis on genomics, molecular marker-assisted selection and gene editing, to improve watermelon and melon resistance and quality. He has over 100 peer-reviewed publications. His current interests are on the genetic and molecular mechanisms regulating the watermelon fruit quality development and evolution.

Sandra Branham
Post-Doctoral Research Geneticist, U.S. Vegetable Laboratory, USDA-ARS
TALK TITLE: “Genomics-enabled genetic mapping and marker development of disease resistance loci in melon and watermelon
Sandra Branham is a postdoctoral research geneticist with the U.S. Vegetable Laboratory (USDA, Agricultural Research Service) in Charleston, SC. She earned her Ph.D. (2013) in Plant Genetics from the University of Texas at Austin where her dissertation research focused on determining the genes underlying quantitative trait variation in seed oil composition and melting point in Arabidopsis thaliana through genome-wide association mapping. Her research focus is to use genomics and bioinformatics as tools to facilitate the improvement of vegetable crops through breeding. She has worked with multiple ARS scientists on diverse agricultural problems to understand the genetic basis of heat tolerance in broccoli and resistance to multiple diseases in watermelon, cantaloupe, and brassica leafy greens.

Breeding for Resistance

Chairperson: Todd Wehner

Xingfang Gu
Institute of Vegetables and Flowers, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Beijing, China

Xingfang Gu tbd

Luis Rivera-Burgos
Research Associate, Cucurbit Breeding program, NCSU
Luis Rivera-Burgos is a Plant Breeder currently working as Research Associate at the Cucurbit Breeding program in NCSU. Luis obtained his B.S. in Agronomy and M.Sc. in Plant Breeding and Genetics in Peru. After working as a Research Assistant at the International Potato Center (CIP) in Lima – Peru, he attended Purdue University for his Ph.D. also in Plant Breeding and Genetics. Besides training and mentoring students, he enjoys a multicultural and interdisciplinary environment of retroactive exchange of knowledge with other researchers. His interests include applied plant breeding for cultivar development, breeding for disease resistance, statistical genetics, molecular breeding, QTL mapping, GWAS, and MAS.