Rita Colwell was the keynote speaker for the opening session of the Ministerial Conference and Expo on Agricultural Science and Technolog, which has drawn more than 200 representatives from 120 nations to Sacramento amid unbelievably tight security.

"If we are serious about making hunger and famine a thing of the past, we must use every tool we can develop," said Colwell. "Plant genomics is a tool that holds fantastic potential to contribute to the well-being of humanity and to the planet we call home. This international conference is both a testament to the urgency of hunger and to the shared commitment to promote a new sustainable agriculture."

Genomics research into plant genetics has enabled scientists to engineer crops that are salt tolerant or drought resistant, while current research is examining how to develop foods that are nutritionally advanced.

Colwell highlighted the significant developments over the past two decades that have opened new doors of exploration to scientists seeking methods to improve the nutrition and health of the world's population and the sustainability of the environment. These developments include:

-- The first ever completely sequenced plant genome of the mustard weed, Arabidopsis, whose genetic information now serves as the guide for mapping 125,000 other plant species in December 2000.

-- The completion of a deep draft (99 percent complete) sequence of the rice genome by an international consortium of scientists including USDA in December 2002

-- The discovery of new methods to sequence the complex maize genome

-- The identification and isolation of resistance genes for the potato late blight disease

While these scientific advances are significant, Colwell stressed that international cooperation will be imperative to effectively address hunger and other global environmental issues.

“The importance of working together in collaborative teams and establishing partnerships to bring the latest scientific knowledge to the developing world is witnessed by the millions who die of hunger each year,” she noted.

"Our common pursuit of new knowledge is a powerful tool for bringing people together toward the common goal of solving problems and building a world of peace and prosperity," she said. "I believe we stand at the threshold of a new age of scientific exploration, one that will give us a deeper understanding of our planet and allow us to improve the quality of people's lives worldwide."

Editor’s Note: Colwell's remarks will be available at http://www.usda.gov, as is additional news and information about the Ministerial Conference and Expo. To learn more about the National Science Foundation, visit: http://www.nsf.gov.

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