Plant Diseases Expert Dennis Gonsalves to Deliver Annual Thoronton-Massa Lecture at Colorado State

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Dennis Gonsalves, one of the world’s leading experts on plant viral diseases, will be the speaker at the eighth annual Thornton-Massa Lecture at Colorado State University.

Gonsalves is director of the USDA’s Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center in Hawaii and is renowned for his leadership in the development and commercialization of the first genetically engineered papaya. He will deliver his speech, "Hawaii’s GMO Papaya: An Analysis of Its Impact and Its Controversy," at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 29, in 104 Yates Lecture Hall. The lecture is free and open to the public.

In the early 1990s, Gonsalves helped save Hawaii’s papaya crop after engineering a papaya immune to the disastrous ringspot virus. He led an inter-institutional research team that found papaya lines with durable resistance to the virus that can damage crops. Following its development, Gonsalves orchestrated the deregulation of engineered papaya varieties for commercial use. That deregulation involved meeting federal health and agricultural guidelines before being accepted by the farming community.

A native of Hawaii, Gonsalves grew up on a sugar cane plantation and attended the University of Hawaii, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Subsequently, he obtained his Ph.D. from the University of California at Davis.

Gonsalves has been a professor at the University of Florida and Cornell University, where he was the distinguished Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor in 1995. He was named director of the Pacific Basin Research Center in 2002. That same year, he won the prestigious Alexander von Humboldt Award for Agriculture.

The Thornton-Massa Lecture honors Bruce and Mildred Thornton, who shared a lifelong interest and commitment to the study, identification and preservation of seeds. 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. 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.

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