Internationally Recognized Plant Breeder Featured at Sixth Annual Thornton-Massa Lecture on Nov. 17

Steven D. Tanksley, one of the world’s leading plant breeding specialists from Cornell University, will discuss the genetic makeup of plants at the Thornton-Massa Lecture on Nov. 17.

The talk, titled "How the Same Genes Make New Species: Wild Stories from Tomatoes," will be at 7:30 p.m. in the Lory Student Center Theater. The event is free and open to the public.

Tanksley, Cornell University’s Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor of Plant Breeding, was one of two scientists to share the 2004 Wolf Foundation Prize in Agriculture. He was cited by the Wolf Prize Committee as "one of the world leaders in plant genomic research. He has contributed to the understanding of heterosis in rice by identifying genes in a wild ancestor that significantly increased yields … Tanksley’s research has led to the discovery of the genetic basis of hybrid vigor in this important food staple – a discovery with profound implications for promoting the science of plant breeding for the benefit of humankind."

Tanksley’s appearance is made possible by the generosity of the late 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.

Massa, a Cleveland native, earned a medical degree in 1953 from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and entered private practice in Denver in 1960. He retired in 1991. He had a long-standing interest in plants, plant breeding and biodiversity.

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, obtaining master’s degrees in botany. Bruce Thornton served from 1927 to 1962 as a Colorado State faculty member and headed the Colorado State Seed Laboratory from 1940 to 1961. Mildred Thornton worked full time and later intermittently at the seed lab until her husband’s retirement in 1961. She 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.

Past Thornton-Massa Lecture topics have included "Biotechnology’s Role in Sustainable Agriculture and National Security," "Human Natures: Genes, Ethics and Conversation" and "Biodiversity, Sustainability and the Human Prospect."