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Cregan to Receive Top Tech Transfer Award from USDA Agency / February 7, 2001 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Cregan to Receive Top Tech Transfer Award from USDA Agency

By Jan Suszkiw
February 7, 2001

BELTSVILLE, Md., Feb. 7—Providing soybean breeders with a new kind of DNA marker for mapping the seed crop’s traits has won research geneticist Perry B. Cregan a top award for technology transfer from the Agricultural Research Service.

ARS, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific research agency, will honor Cregan and other award-winning scientists Feb. 7, at a 1 p.m. ceremony at the agency’s Henry A. Wallace Beltsville (Md.) Agricultural Research Center.

There, Cregan will receive a gold plaque and cash award for Outstanding Technology Transfer from ARS Administrator Floyd P. Horn. The event, begun in 1986, provides “a venue each year to honor ARS researchers who’ve gone the extra mile in moving promising new research technologies from the lab bench to the marketplace,” said Horn.

Cregan works at ARS’s Soybean Genomics and Improvement Lab, formerly known as the Soybean and Alfalfa Research Lab, in Beltsville, Md. There, he developed a new kind of molecular marker for genetically mapping soybean traits and identifying differences among varieties of the crop.

The markers consist of short, repeating segments of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) called simple sequence repeats (SSR). Cregan was the first to use them in a plant species. During the past eight years, he has developed more than 1000 SSR soybean markers, providing plant breeders and scientists with a powerful new tool for characterizing genomic regions where important genes reside.

In 1999, for example, Cregan released a set of SSR markers that pointed the way to two genomic regions harboring genes for resistance to the soybean cyst nematode (SCN), a worm-like pest that costs U.S. soybean growers up to $1 billion annually in losses. Public soybean breeders and commercial companies, including Monsanto Corp., Pioneer Hi-Bred, Novartis Seeds, and Biogenetic Services, Inc., are now using Cregan’s markers to develop new soybean breeding lines that will naturally resist the pest.

Before his work, soybean researchers primarily relied on another type of DNA marker referred to as restriction fragment length polymorphism, or RFLP. But Cregan saw limitations to using the RFLP makers in soybeans, particularly in screening large numbers of plants for SCN resistance. So, he began seeking alternatives, a research direction that led to his development of SSRs for use in soybeans.

After verifying SSRs in self-pollinating plants, Cregan’s lab made the markers publicly available on “SoyBase,” a computer database maintained by ARS’s Plant Genome Program. This also coincided with the January 1998 release of the new “Integrated Genetic Map of the Soybean Genome,” which was developed along with collaborators at the University of Utah, ARS in Ames, Iowa, the University of Nebraska, and Biogenetic Services, Inc.

On the tech transfer front, members of the soybean breeding community quickly adapted the technology to their crop improvement programs. Cregan also made a video for soybean examiners at the USDA-Agricultural Marketing Service’s Plant Variety Protection Office (PVPO) in which he explained how to use the markers to distinguish among new plant varieties. This has helped PVPO and others in the plant breeding community address concerns over intellectual property rights protection.

At his Beltsville lab, Cregan also demonstrated the technology to 50 visiting members of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, an organization working to standardize plant variety protection policies.

In the United States, soybeans are grown on an estimated 70 million acres, primarily as a source of edible oil and high-quality meal. Soybean oil, worth about $4 billion annually, is converted into margarine, shortening, mayonnaise, salad dressings, and other products. Most of the meal is used as a high-protein animal feed for the production of eggs, poultry, and pork.

Cregan, a Clarksville, Md., resident, joined ARS in October 1977 as a scientist at the then-named Cell Culture and Nitrogen Fixation Laboratory in Beltsville. Originally from Long Island, New York, Cregan attended Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., where he earned a B.A. degree in 1968. From 1969 to 1971 he worked in Nicaragua, Central America, as an agricultural extension agent for the U.S. Peace Corps. From 1971 to 1972, he attended Oregon State University, receiving a B.S. degree in General Agriculture. He later studied at North Dakota State University, Fargo, where he earned his Ph.D. in plant genetics in 1977.

Scientific contact: Perry B. Cregan, research geneticist, Soybean Genomics and Improvement Lab, Bldg. 006, Rm. 100, Beltsville, Md. 20705, Phone (301) 504-5070, fax (301) 504-5723,

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