Expert on Genetically Modified Organisms Will Present Inaugural Thornton-Massa Lecture at Colorado State University April 19

A distinguished plant physiologist and molecular biologist will discuss the need for genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, at the first annual Thornton-Massa Distinguished Lecture at Colorado State University April 19.

Christopher R. Somerville, director of the Carnegie Institution of Washington Department of Plant Biology and a professor of biological sciences at Stanford University, will speak at 7 p.m. in the Lory Student Center Theatre. His lecture, "The Case for GMOs," will address their use in reducing applications of pesticides and fertilizer and ensuring a plentiful food supply for a growing world population.

Somerville’s address will conclude the fourth annual Rocky Mountain Plant Biotechnology and Molecular Biology Symposium, a one-day program featuring addresses by a number of researchers and a keynote speech by Somerville. A poster session will also be held.

Somerville’s appearance is made possible by the generosity of Dr. Emil Massa of Denver and the late Bruce and Mildred Thornton, whose shared interest in biodiversity, improved plant genetics and related topics led them to endow an annual lecture through the College of Agricultural Science and College of Natural Sciences.

Somerville is applying molecular genetics to the investigation of mechanisms that regulate embryo development, lipid metabolism and cell wall structure and function in the plant genus Arabidopsis. He is involved in developing a database that will provide public access to all genome-related information about Arabidopsis, a relative of the mustard plant.

Somerville has been awarded several honorary degrees. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1996. He earned the American Society of Plant Physiologists Gibbs Medal in 1993, a Humboldt Senior Research Award in 1992 and the Schull Award of the American Society of Plant Physiologists in 1987. Elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1991, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1992.

Educated in mathematics and genetics at the University of Alberta, Somerville has held teaching and research positions with the University of Illinois, the University of Alberta and Michigan State University. He is a member of numerous professional organizations and panels. Co-author of two books, Somerville has written some 150 research papers in plant and bacterial genetics and molecular biology.

Massa, a native of Cleveland, studied at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, and earned a medical degree in 1953 from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. Massa entered private practice in Denver in 1960 and retired in 1991.

Bruce and Mildred Thornton shared a lifelong interest in and commitment to the study, identification and preservation of seeds. Both were Colorado natives who attended Colorado State University, where both obtained master’s degrees in botany. They married in 1930.

Bruce Thornton served from 1927 to 1962 as a Colorado State faculty member and with the Agricultural Experiment Station staff. In addition to leading weed control investigations during this time, he headed the Colorado State Seed Laboratory from 1940 to 1961. He was an honorary member of the Association of Official Seed Analysts, a charter and member of the Colorado-Wyoming Academy of Science and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Mildred Thornton accepted a full-time job at the seed lab but, after the birth of her first of two children in 1934, left full-time employment. However, she continued to work intermittently for the next two decades, sometimes without pay. When Bruce retired in 1961, Mildred took over the directorship and, during a nine-year tenure, oversaw the move to new facilities and continued to maintain the laboratory’s excellence in seed research and in the training of seed analysts. She received several awards for her work, including Colorado State’s Henry Award and Honor Alumna.

For more information on the lecture and program, call (970) 491-1300.