The International Phytobiomes Conference 2022 brings together a broad community of U.S. and international scientists from the public and private sector as well as agricultural stakeholders. The Conference program will cover a wide range of topics related to phytobiomes and the list of speakers & panelists below reflects the interdisciplinarity of phytobiome science.

Plenary SpeakersInvited SpeakersOther SpeakersProducer RoundtableIndustry RoundtableRegulatory Roundtable

Special Guest

Kendall Rae Johnson

Kendall Rae Johnson is Georgia’s youngest certified farmer. The seven-year-old is the owner of aGROWKulture Urban Farm in Atlanta where she sells food baskets from her own garden, hosts kids marketplace events, and inspires other young people.

The Voice of the Future

Her participation in the Phytobiomes Conference is a reminder to all scientists that they are currently working on developing the tools that she will be using twenty years from now. Questions such as “What does she need?” and “What is the science that we need to focus on?” need to be asked now so that in twenty years farmers like her all over the world, regardless of the size of their farm or the kind of crop they grow, have the tools they need to address the challenges they will be facing, whether it be food security, climate change or agricultural sustainability. Read more…

Kendall Rae will participate in a conversation with Kellye Eversole (Phytobiomes Alliance) and LaKisha Odom (Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research – FFAR)

Day 1 – Session 1: Phytobiomes and Farm Sustainability

Plenary Speakers

Kellye Eversole

International Alliance for Phytobiomes Research

Kellye Eversole is the Executive Director of the International Alliance for Phytobiomes Research which is pioneering a holistic, systems approach to understanding the complex interactions between the biological and geophysical components of agricultural production systems and support the development of novel, site specific products for enhanced sustainability. She is an expert in agricultural genomics, biotechnology, and information technology research and a leader in the development of international, pre-competitive multidisciplinary, industry-academic research consortia.

Day 1 – Conference Kickoff
Plenary Lecture: Setting the stage for a phytobiomes approach to drive sustainable agricultural production

Kirsten Hofmockel

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, US

Kirsten Hofmockel is the President of the Soil Ecology Society, an international organization focused on furthering the science, education and awareness of the importance of soils for human and environmental well-being. She serves as a liaison to the U.S. National Committee for Soil Sciences, which advises the National Academies and represents the interests of the U.S. soil science community in the International Union of Soil Sciences. Hofmockel is a Department of Energy Early Career Award recipient for research focused on how plants, microbes and soils interact to influence carbon storage. She is a Sr. Scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, where she leads the Soil Microbiome Science Focus Area that investigates the basic biology underpinning how soil microbial community members interact to generate beneficial ecosystem functions. Hofmockel holds a joint appointment in the Department of Agronomy at Iowa State University.

Day 2 – Session 3: Soils and Rhizosphere
Plenary Lecture: Plant-microbe-mineral interactions within a soil profile

James Hurrell

Colorado State University, US

James (Jim) W. Hurrell is the Scott Presidential Chair of Environmental Science and Engineering at Colorado State University. He is a former Director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), where he was also a Senior Scientist in the Climate and Global Dynamics Laboratory (CGD). Jim’s research has centered on empirical and modeling studies and diagnostic analyses to better understand climate, climate variability, and climate predictability. He currently serves as the Past President of the Atmospheric Sciences Section of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), and he is a member of Advisory Panel for the Division of Earth and Life Sciences, National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. Jim is a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society, the American Meteorological Society, and the AGU.

Day 3 – Session 5: Imaging and Modeling of the Phytobiomes
Plenary Lecture: The untapped potential of earth system models

Rachel Vannette

University of California, Davis, US

Rachel Vannette is a community ecologist interested in understanding and predicting how microbial communities influence interactions between plants and insects. She studies microbial communities in flowers, on insects, or in soil by combining natural history observations with techniques from chemical ecology, microbial ecology and community ecology.  Her work includes applied problems with an immediate application, for example pathogen control or how to landscape to support pollinators. Other questions may not have an immediate application but are nonetheless grounded in theory and will contribute to basic knowledge and conservation.

Day 1 – Session 2: Exploring Interactions within Phytobiomes
Plenary Lecture: Microbial contribution to plant-insect interactions

Vittorio Venturi

International Centre for Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology, IT

Vittorio Venturi graduated from Edinburgh University, UK in 1988 and received his Ph.D. degree in Microbiology from the University of Utrecht, The Netherlands in 1994. During his Ph.D. research he focused on the regulation of iron-transport processes of beneficial plant associated bacteria which promote plant growth; the monopolization of iron nearby plant roots is an important trait which keeps microbial pathogens away. He then moved as a postdoctoral fellow to the International Centre for Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology (ICGEB), Trieste, Italy, where he started investigating intercellular signaling among bacteria. He then went on to become Group Leader at ICGEB in 1998 continuing his studies on intercellular signaling. He is now particularly interested in (i) how plant associated bacteria undergo interspecies communication and interkingdom signaling with plants and (ii) plant microbiomes and the development of microbial products for a more sustainable agriculture. Since October 2019 he is also acting as the Scientific Coordinator of ICGEB.

Day 2 – Session 4: Phytobiomes Engineering
Plenary Lecture: Communication among microbes in the plant associated microbiome

Alyssa Whitcraft

NASA Harvest & University of Maryland, US and GEOGLAM Secretariat, CH

Alyssa Whitcraft is a geographer with broad training in remote sensing, agriculture, and interdisciplinary development studies. She is the co-founder of NASA Harvest, NASA Applied Sciences Program’s global food security and agriculture program, for which she co-developed the scientific scope and manages the operations of over 35 projects composed of more than 50 U.S. and international partners from various disciplines and sectors. She is an Associate Research Professor in the Department of Geographical Sciences at the University of Maryland, and since 2015, she has served as Program Scientist for G20’s Group on Earth Observations Global Agricultural Monitoring (GEOGLAM).

Alyssa is an expert in organizational change with respect to integrating new satellite technologies into workflows. She has developed collaborations and partnership models with public and private sector, emphasizing sustainable business models and value to all actors. Having grown up working in her family winery, she understands well the challenges of farm and supply chain resilience in the context of climate change, extreme weather events, and land mismanagement.

Day 3 – Session 7: Applying Phytobiome-based Solutions
Plenary Lecture: A view from above: What satellites can (and cannot… yet?) tell us about agricultural sustainability, soil health, and climate resilience

Invited Speakers

Vanessa Bailey

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, US

Vanessa Bailey is a laboratory fellow at PNNL. Her research focuses on understanding the integrated microbial, chemical, and physical system that comprise soils. To achieve this understanding, she studies how water dynamics within soil pores leads to changes in soil carbon chemistry at pore-, core-, and field scales. This helps resolve the bioavailability of chemically and spatially defined soil carbon to soil microorganisms. Soil microbial communities are a key buffer system against perturbations to the earth from climate change, pollution, and disturbance. Bailey and colleagues have conducted research showing, for example, that the rate at which microbes are transferring carbon from soil to the atmosphere has increased over a 25-year time period. She also manages one of the Department of Energy’s largest coastal research projects, COMPASS, where she is leading efforts to understand the transformations and exchange of carbon and nutrients across the interface between land and sea.

Day 1 – Session 2: Exploring Interactions Within Phytobiomes
Talk: Physical controls on microbial carbon cycling in soils

Richard Broglie

Pivot Bio, US

Richard Broglie, leads Pivot Bio’s research and development program, creating a vibrant and innovative R&D culture by championing strong, interdisciplinary connections between scientific specialties. In addition to leading the in-house research teams and managing partnerships with external collaborators, Rich focuses on the acquisition of new technologies, building strong intellectual property portfolios, bringing products to market, working with the leadership team to develop long-term technology strategies, and mentoring young scientists.

Prior to joining Pivot Bio, Rich spent 30 years in research and global leadership positions at DuPont and DuPont Pioneer and brings extensive experience managing public-private sector partnerships and overseeing global, multi-crop R&D programs. During his tenure, Rich led several discovery programs that resulted in soybean and canola crops with healthier and more stable seed oil compositions. He also developed traits for disease and pest resistance in soybean, corn, wheat, rice, and sugarcane.

Day 2 – Session 4: Phytobiome Engineering
Talk: Optimizing nitrogen production in root-associated, diazotrophic bacteria

David Glass

D. Glass Associates, US

David Glass is a consultant specializing in industrial/ environmental/ agricultural biotechnology regulatory affairs, with over 30 years experience with government regulation of the commercial uses of modified microorganisms and plants and other products of biotechnology.
David has provided strategic advice to numerous environmental and industrial biotechnology companies regarding compliance with the regulations of EPA, FDA and other agencies. Specifically, he has advised biofuel and bio-based chemical companies on the applicability of the EPA TSCA regulations to the use of modified microorganisms in fuel or chemical manufacture, he has advised clients on regulatory requirements for several types of FDA-regulated products, including food and feed additives, cosmetics, color additives and dietary supplements (nutraceuticals), and he has assisted in the preparation of submissions for approval of three animal feed ingredients.

Day 3 – Session 6: Regulatory Challenges & Barriers to Solutions
Talk: Achieving regulatory approval for microbial inoculants or soil additives

Prasanna Kankanala

Trace Genomics, US

Prasanna Kankanala is a plant pathologist with two decades of experience in plant-microbe interactions. Her prowess includes molecular interactions between plants and microbes, microbiome analysis, functional studies, whole genome sequencing, high-throughput assay development, and product evaluations. At Trace, Prasanna leads the efforts to innovate on high-throughput systems for development and evaluation of next-generation solutions for agriculture.

Day 3 – Session 7: Applying Phytobiome-based Solutions
Talk: Decoding soil with whole genome sequencing for scalable & sustainable Ag solutions

Keith Matthews

Wiley Rein LLP, US

Keith Matthews has practiced environmental law focussing on the regulation of chemicals and genetically engineered organisms for over 25 years. He has practiced in the private sector, and for over 13 years was a staff attorney and Assistant General Counsel in the Office of General Counsel at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He then served for four years as the Director of the Biopesticides and Pollution Prevention Division (BPPD) in EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP). Now, as Of Counsel with Wiley Rein LLP, his practice focusses on the regulation of chemical products, including biotechnology products regulated by EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Keith counsels and advises his clients using his breadth of knowledge on a variety of statutes, including the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA), the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and the Plant Protection Act.

Day 3 – Session 6: Regulatory Challenges & Barriers to Solutions
Talk: Regulatory challenges & barriers to solutions

Jennifer Pett-Ridge

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, US

Jennifer Pett-Ridge is a senior staff scientist and group leader at LLNL who uses the tools of systems biology and biogeochemistry to link, identity, and function in environmental microbial communities and pioneered the use of NanoSIMS isotopic imaging in the fields of microbial biology and soil biogeochemistry. As lead scientist of the LLNL Genomic Science Biofuels Scientific Focus Area (SFA) (2009–2018) and more recently the LLNL Soil Microbiome SFA, she leads multi-disciplinary teams that integrate biogeochemistry, stable isotope probing, NanoSIMS imaging, molecular microbial ecology, and computational modeling to understand biotic interactions and energy flow in microbial communities critical to soil nutrient cycling and sustainable biofuel production. Pett-Ridge is currently leading a county-level assessment of options for carbon dioxide removal in the USA. She is the group lead for the Environmental Isotope Systems group at LLNL and manages a large portfolio of DOE, NSF, NASA and foundation support. Pett-Ridge has published over 120 peer-review articles, has received a DOE Early Career award, Secretary of Energy Achievement Award, the Geochemical Society Endowed Biogeochemistry Medal, and the DOE Office of Science Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award.

Day 2 – Session 3: Soil and Rhizosphere
Talk: Life and death in the soil microbiome: How cross-kingdom interactions shape the fate and persistence of soil carbon


Reinaldo Alcalde

California Institute of Technology, US

Reinaldo Alcalde is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Division of Biology and Biological Engineering at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. Rei’s general research interests are in Environmental Health and Sustainability with a passion for translational approaches that address both fundamental and applied biological research. His current research focuses on the role of bacterial secondary metabolites in the rhizosphere and its implication for promoting nutrient bioavailability in agricultural systems. Rei holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin, an M.S. in Environmental Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a B.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is currently an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Biology (NSF PRFB) and a co-Director for the non-profit Clean Water Science Network

Day 3 – Session 5: Imaging and Modeling of the Phytobiomes
Talk: The role of phenazines in regulating phosphate bioavailability in the rhizosphere

Alejandro del Barrio Duque

Evologic Technologies, AT

Alejandro del Barrio Duque works as lead scientist at Evologic Technologies. He studied Forest Engineering at Technical University of Madrid (Spain) and Sustainable Biotechnology at Aalborg University (Denmark). He completed his PhD on plant-microbe interactions at the Austrian Institute of Technology under the advisement of Stéphane Compant and Angela Sessitsch. He currently leads research and manufacturing projects to develop, scale and execute fermentation and formulation processes to produce and stabilize microbes. ​His main goal is to develop microbial applications for agriculture, with a particular interest on difficult-to-grow microbes that hold enormous potential as well as bridging the gap between scientific discoveries and applicable microbial products.

Day 2 – Session 4: Phytobiomes Engineering
Talk: Mycotec – Cutting edge technology to grow filamentous fungi for agriculture

Nichole Ginnan

University of Kansas, US

Nichole Ginnan (she/her) is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department at the University of Kansas, and a member of Maggie Wagner’s lab. She earned her PhD in Plant Pathology from the University of California, Riverside, under the advisement of Caroline Roper. Nichole’s research focuses on understanding how soil and plant-associated microbial communities ecologically and evolutionarily adapt to stress.

Day 2 – Session 3: Soil and Rhizosphere
Talk: Recent evolutionary history of the soil microbiome influences plant drought tolerance

Mengying Liu

University of Saskatchewan, CA

Mengying Liu is a PhD candidate in the University of Saskatchewan and the Global Institute for Food Security. Her work focuses on optimizing phosphorus delivery to canola, through the investigation of canola root-associated microbial community, the root system architecture, and their interactions in response to different soil phosphorus availability. To achieve this, she conducted experiments in both field and controlled environment, developing a Rhiobox to facilitate the non-destructive studies of the root architecture, and using Illumina Miseq to profile the root-associated microbial community. She has gained years of field work and teaching experience and received five scholarships during her PhD project.

Day 2 – Session 3: Soil and Rhizosphere
Talk: Impacts of phosphorus fertilizer on the canola (Brassica napus) root and rhizosphere microbiomes

Veronica Roman-Reyna

Ohio State University, US

Veronica Roman-Reyna is a Research Scientist in the Plant Pathology Department at The Ohio State University in Jonathan Jacobs’s lab. She earned her BS and MS degrees at Universidad Nacional de Colombia, where she worked with potato and cassava diseases. She earned her Ph.D. in Plant Pathology from the Australian National University on wheat stripe rust. She then was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, where she characterized the leaf microbiome structure from the 3000 Rice Genomes Project. At Ohio State University, she focuses on developing genomic and metagenomic tools to improve plant disease diagnostics, surveillance, and molecular epidemiology. Her ultimate goal is to use omics to provide context to plant diseases and be able to predict disease outbreaks.

Day 3 – Session 5: Imaging and Modeling of the Phytobiomes
Talk: Developing metagenomic sequencing as a tool for pathogen surveillance and epidemiology

Angela Sessitsch

AIT Austrian Institute of Technology, AT

Angela Sessitsch is Head of the Bioresources Unit at the AIT Austrian Institute of Technology. She studied biochemistry at the University of Technology in Graz, holds a PhD in Microbiology from the Wageningen University, the Netherlands, and is habilitated at the Vienna University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences. She has pioneered plant-associated microbiomes and is interested in understanding the interactions between plants, microbiomes and the environment as well as to develop applications. Her group explores the diversity and functioning of plant microbiota by applying a range of molecular approaches, interaction modes between plants and model bacteria, colonization behaviour of endophytes as well as various application technologies for biocontrol and crop enhancement applications. Together with her group A. Sessitsch published more than 150 peer-reviewed publications, she belongs to the Highly Cited Researchers and is co-inventor of several patents.

Day 3 – Session 7: Applying Phytobiome-based Solutions
Talk: From the ecology and functions of the plant microbiome to its importance in the food system  

Behnaz Soleimani

Julius Kühn-Institut, DE

Behnaz Soleimani is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Institute of Resistance Research and Stress Tolerance at the Julius Kühn-Institut in Quedlinburg (Germany). She studied her BS and MS in Iran and earned her PhD in Plant Breeding from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg University in Germany. During her PhD, she evaluated different root and shoot morphological traits regarding nutrient deficiency and rising atmospheric concentration of CO2, in wild barley introgression lines. She started her Postdoctoral research at Julius-Kuehn Institute, by conducting resistance test to detect resistance/tolerance genotypes to root lesion nematode, wheat dwarf virus and frost tolerance in barley and wheat. Her current research topic focuses on phenotyping and genomic analysis of genetically characterized wheat genotypes for endophyte-induced yield improvement and priming capacity.

Day 3 – Session 7: Applying Phytobiome-based Solutions
Talk: Increased wheat resistance to leaf rust by priming

Sherry Sun

University of British Columbia, CA

Sherry Sun is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Botany at The University of British Columbia, Canada, under the guidance of her joint co-supervisors Drs. Guus Bakkeren (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada) and Yuelin Zhang (University of British Columbia). Sherry is a part of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada-CREATE funded international training program, Plant Responses to Eliminate Critical Threats, which joins forces with research groups from the Georg-August-University Göttingen in Germany. Her current work focuses on exploring the genetic factors which contribute to wheat systemic acquired resistance in response to the fungal disease, wheat leaf rust. Sherry has presented her research in several regional and national conferences, and won awards for placing first on two occasions. Previously, Sherry conducted research on the corn smut disease pathogen, Ustilago maydis, the results for which have precipitated in a co-authorship on an article published this June in Science.

Day 1 – Session 2: Exploring Interactions Within Phytobiomes
Talk: Investigating the NHP-dependent SAR pathway in common hexaploid wheat

Tanvi Taparia

University of Copenhagen, DK

Tanvi Taparia is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. Tanvi develops sustainable and systemic solutions to agro-ecological problems, in the interface of microbial ecology, soil ecology and plant pathology. Her research focusses on deciphering interactions in the host-soil-microbiome nexus. She designs ecological disease control strategies by studying disease suppressive microbiomes and characterising both pathogens and beneficials.

Day 2 – Session 4: Phytobiomes Engineering
Talk: Soil microbiome regulates trade-offs between productivity and disease pressure for circular growth media

Veronic Toepfer

Julius-Kuehn Institute, DE

Veronic Toepfer is a PhD candidate in the Institute of Resistance Research and Stress Tolerance at the Julius-Kuehn Institute in Quedlinburg, Germany. Veronic takes part in the JKI project “MORGEN”: Modelling drought stress tolerance in barley under the application of biologicals. Her research focuses on the study of the drought stress tolerance of spring barley and how biostimulants could influence drought stress tolerance in different reacting barley genotypes.

Day 3 – Session 7: Applying Phytobiome-based Solutions
Talk: The impact of biostimulants on drought stress tolerance in barley

Anne Winding

Aarhus University, DK

Anne Winding is professor in molecular microbial ecology at Department of Environmental Science, Aarhus University, Denmark. Her research focuses on how soil microbial communities, their immense diversity and interactions within the microbiome and with invertebrates can i) reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the soil environment and ii) benefit sustainable crop production in optimizing the rhizosphere microbiome and minimize anthropogenic effects. In addition, risk assessing anthropogenic initiatives like soil amendment with chemical as nitrification inhibitors or living organisms as microbial pest control agents are investigated.

Day 1 – Session 1: Phytobiomes and Farm Sustainability
Talk: Rhizobiome interactions among trophic levels affected by agricultural practices

Day 1 – Producer Roundtable

Benjamin Riensche

Blue Diamond Farming Company, US

Benjamin Riensche operates a 16,000-plus acre, sixth generation family farm known as the Blue Diamond Farming Company. Primary operations are in Northeast Iowa where the farm produces corn, soybeans and seed soybeans, and in the Palouse Region of Washington and Idaho where white wheat and chickpeas are grown.

The Riensche Farm seeks to extract value by performing every function involved in their crop production, from soil fertilization on through production, processing and delivery of every bushel grown. The farm has grown five-fold over the past 28 years of Ben’s leadership.

Ben has been farming since 1993. Prior to this, Ben earned an Agricultural Business degree from Iowa State University and an MBA from the University of Chicago. Between school and farming, he worked for Wells Fargo Bank and then for UBS (Switzerland) in their Wall Street, Chicago and Basel, Switzerland offices. He currently serves as the chair of Indigo Agriculture’s Strategic Advisory Board, and on the Grower Advisory Panel of Crop Life America.

Joseph Cammack

Farmbox Foods, US

Joseph Cammack is the Executive Vice President of Farmbox Foods. He is experienced in Entrepreneurship, Food Security, and Supply Chain Management. Driven by personal goals to build a sustainable and food safe world, he takes pride in providing mission driven strategies and process improvement practices.

As Executive Vice President, his goals include team development, innovation, and eliminating food hunger. Joseph has been honored with the Newel K. Whitney Award for showing outstanding Character, Diligence and building a better world from Brigham Young University – Idaho

Day 1 – Industry Roundtable

Fernanda do Amaral, Joyn Bio, US

Richard Broglie, Pivot Bio, US

Charles Cowden, Valent BioSciences, US

Prasanna Kankanala, Trace Genomics, US

Day 3 – Regulatory Roundtable

David Glass, D. Glass Associates, US

Jennifer Lilly, Plant Response, US

Keith Matthews, Wiley Rein LLP, US

Boris Vinatzer, Virginia Tech, US