National news release
Cregan to Receive Top Tech Transfer Award
from USDA Agency By Jan Suszkiw
BELTSVILLE, Md., Feb. 7Providing soybean breeders
with a new kind of DNA marker for mapping the seed crops 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
Agricultures chief scientific research agency, will honor Cregan and
other award-winning scientists Feb. 7, at a 1 p.m. ceremony at the
agencys 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
whove gone the extra mile in moving promising new research technologies
from the lab bench to the marketplace, said Horn.
Cregan works at ARSs
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 Cregans 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, Cregans
lab made the markers publicly available on SoyBase, a computer
database maintained by ARSs 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 Services 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
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
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,
Genomics and Improvement Lab, Bldg. 006, Rm. 100, Beltsville, Md. 20705,
Phone (301) 504-5070, fax (301) 504-5723,