Bob Conger Receives the Lifetime Achievement Award

The Lifetime Achievement Award is a prestigious award presented by the SIVB to unique individuals who have contributed significantly to and developed novel technologies in the field of in vitro biology. It was presented by the Society for In Vitro Biology (SIVB) to two scientists at the 2006 In Vitro Biology meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The recipients of this prestigious award were Bob Conger, who was nominated by David Songstad, and Wei-Shou Hu, who was nominated by David Jayme. Articles featuring each Lifetime Achievement Award winner are presented in separate issues of the In Vitro Report.

Bob Conger

Bob V. Conger, Austin Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, The University of Tennessee, was honored for his lifetime accomplishments with the 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Plant Sciences Section of the Society for In Vitro Biology at their annual meeting in Minneapolis, June 4, 2006. Dr. Conger received his B.S. from Colorado State University in 1963 and his Ph.D. from Washington State University in 1967 where he was supported by a NASA Pre-doctoral Traineeship. Bob began his career at the UT-AEC Agricultural Research Laboratory (later Comparative Animal Research Laboratory) in 1968 and was an internationally known plant radiation biologist and mutation geneticist. He transferred to the UT campus in 1976 and initiated research in biotechnology. He was a leader in the area of monocot tissue culture and genetic transformation. The orchardgrass cell culture system became exceptionally well developed through Dr. Conger’s research and led the way in biotechnological advancements for the Poaceae family. His lab became an internationally recognized monocot tissue culture and transformation laboratory. Dr. Conger was not satisfied with “earthbound” research and, with support from NASA, his orchardgrass system was used for experiments in 1994 and 1998 on the space shuttle Discovery. His lab was also the first to demonstrate genetic transformation in switchgrass, a biomass crop that is receiving attention for the production of cellulosic ethanol. Transgenic plants were produced by both the particle bombardment and Agrobacterium methods. His awards are numerous and include The University of Tennessee Chancellor’s Research Scholar, Clyde B. Austin Distinguished Professorship, Cavender Award for Outstanding Research Publication, Gamma Sigma Delta Award of Merit for Research, the Excellence in Research and Creative Activities Award, and an Honored Alumni Award from the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at Colorado State University on September 1, 2006. He is an elected Fellow of the American Society of Agronomy, the Crop Science Society of America, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Dr. Conger’s success and dedication to his research is evident through his numerous publications from his research team. Bob was the editor and contributing author of the book “Cloning Agricultural Plants Via In Vitro Techniques,” which has been widely cited by his peers and most likely on the book shelves of many plant biotechnologists. Dr. Conger was the first editor of the Journal Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences in 1981 and served through 2003. He developed a new orchardgrass variety ‘Persist’ that has been exclusively released and licensed to Smith Seed Services in Halsey, Oregon.

Upon receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award, Dr. Conger said (summarized):

“To be selected for a Lifetime Achievement Award from one’s professional society is extremely high recognition and I am deeply honored to be a recipient of it. Special thanks go to David Songstad, who initiated the nomination, and to those who wrote letters of support.

I could not have been selected for this award without the effort, dedication and contributions of students, post-doctorals, and visiting international scholars in my program. Special appreciation is due to the late Judi McDaniel, who was my Research Associate and colleague from 1982-2003. She was the pillar of the laboratory and was responsible for keeping things together and functioning in addition to conducting important experiments, especially for the space shuttle.

That mesophyll cells of orchardgrass could be induced to initiate and develop into fully mature and germinable embryos was the single most important discovery in my professional career. This system, which might be considered as the “white mouse” of somatic embryogenesis in angiosperms, and perhaps, analogous to stem cells, provide unique opportunities for further research on “gene expression and signaling.” The contributions made by specific people in my laboratory from the discovery of the system, through evidence of cell division and differentiation by light microscopy, scanning electron microscopy, and transmission electron microscopy, development and refinement of the suspension cultures, genetic transformation and its opportunity to fly in space, were detailed in my oral presentation.

Again, I thank the Society for In Vitro Biology for honoring me with one of their most prestigious awards.”