1. Kansas State University
  2. »Division of Communications and Marketing
  3. »K-State Today
  4. »Harry Klee to give Hageman Distinguished Lecture in Agricultural Biochemistry on...

K-State Today

April 8, 2019

Harry Klee to give Hageman Distinguished Lecture in Agricultural Biochemistry on April 10-11

Submitted by Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics

Harry Klee, National Academy of Sciences member, American Association for the Advancement of Science fellow, Eminent Scholar in the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and horticultural sciences at the University of Florida, will present "The chemistry of tomato flavor: Integrating genetics and biochemistry to elaborate a complex phenotype" at 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 10, in McVey Family Town Hall of the Leadership Studies Building.

On Thursday, April 11, Klee will present a research colloquium, "Rethinking plant breeding to produce healthy food crops that consumers actually want to eat" at 9 a.m. in the Terry C. Johnson Cancer Research Center in 36 Chalmers Hall. Both events are part of the Richard H. and Elizabeth C. Hageman Distinguished Lectureship in Agricultural Biochemistry sponsored by Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics in the College of Arts and Sciences. The lecture and colloquium are free and open to the public.

The Hageman lecture series has existed for 20 years; Professor Harry J. Klee is the 21st lecturer. It is fitting that he spent several years of the early 1980s as a postdoctoral fellow with our first lecturer, Eugene Nester. Although Agrobacterium had been recognized for decades as an interesting bacterium inducing crown gall, it was only with their success in characterizing the Ti plasmid that a revolution in plant breeding was made possible.

Professor Klee is Eminent Scholar at the University of Florida, Gainesville since 1995 and holds the Paul Dickman chair in plant improvement. He is the author of more than 100 peer-reviewed publications and another 50 book chapters and invited commentaries and reviews. He has served on editorial boards of several plant-related journals and was editor of The Plant Journal for seven years. He has also been the graduate coordinator and director of the interdisciplinary plant molecular and cellular biology program at the University of Florida. Currently, he also is a visiting professor at Zhejiang University. He has served on many national review panels for USDA and NSF, and several international, external review boards. In addition to his election as a Fellow of AAAS in 2009 and member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2012, Klee has been active in the American Society of Plant Biology and served as president of that organization 2017-2018.

Harry J. Klee grew up a native of Massachusetts and obtained a Bachelor of Science in psychology and doctorate in biochemistry from University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Following his doctoral work on tRNAs, and four years with Eugene Nester, he joined the newly formed research group headed by Rob Fraley at Monsanto. He was deeply involved in turning the Ti plasmid into a tool for plant transformation, ultimately leading to GMOs for Round-Up Ready crops including canola, cotton and soybean. Working with crown gall induced by the Ti plasmid naturally led to study of plant hormones beyond just auxin and cytokinins. Most plant signal systems affect an array of genes, some of which produce other signals in turn. Development of a mature fruit depends on precise coordination of vast networks of genes from flower formation to fruit harvest.

For the modern miracle of fresh produce year round in non-tropical climates, a major challenge is to keep the flavor in, yet let it out so we can taste and smell it. During the past two decades, Harry Klee has focused on this huge challenge, identifying the complexities of how flavor molecules are synthesized and released. His earlier work with the Never-ripe tomato, and interactions of ethylene, salicylic acid, strigolactones and abscisic acid during plant development laid the groundwork for this. For his work on ethylene, he was honored to give the Shang Fa Yang lecture at Academica Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan, in 2014. The Hageman lecture will be a current status report on the biochemistry and molecular biology of flavor in the tomato, the most widely consumed fruit in the U.S. The colloquium will ask how we can get people to eat their veggies.

The Richard H. and Elizabeth C. Hageman Distinguished Lectureship in Agricultural Biochemistry is made possible by the generous endowment provided by Dr. and Mrs. Hageman. Professor Hageman was recognized for "his formulation that rate-limiting enzymes could be identified and used as a basis to select for specific traits which lead to higher crop yields. This singular focus, which resulted from and contributed to his research on nitrate reductase, is so basic and now so readily understood that it is taken for granted in all of plant science." His major contributions to an understanding of plant nitrogen metabolism included the finding that nitrate reductase is an inducible enzyme, and identification of nitrite reductase as a distinct enzyme dependent on ferredoxin in chloroplasts.