The SIVB Distinguished Scientist Award recognizes outstanding mid-career scientists who have made significant contributions to the field of in vitro biology and/or in the development of novel technologies that have advanced in vitro biology.  The Society for In Vitro Biology honored Dr. Fredy Altpeter and Dr. Michael J. Fay as recipients of the Distinguished Scientist Award at the 2020 In Vitro Biology Meeting.  Dr. Fredy Altpeter’s Distinguished Scientist Award is highlighted in this issue of the In Vitro Report, and Dr. Michael J. Fay’s Distinguished Scientist Award will be highlighted in a future issue of the In Vitro Report.

Fredy Altpeter, PhD

2020 Distinguished Scientist Award Recipient

Dr. Altpeter poses with past and present members of the Altpeter lab who reunited at the SIVB 2019 In Vitro Biology Meeting in Tampa, Florida.

Dr. Fredy Altpeter
2020 Distinguished Scientist Award Recipient

It was with great satisfaction that we learned that Dr. Fredy Altpeter was selected to receive the SIVB’s 2020 Distinguished Scientist Award.  Dr. Altpeter is widely recognized as a world expert on the transformation of grasses/turfgrasses and the use of gene editing to enhance the production of value-added products. He uses a wide variety of tools that include precision genome editing, synthetic biology and molecular dissection of regulatory networks. His research focus is on identifying, isolating and engineering limiting factors for genetic improvement for biomass bioengineering grasses for the next generation of biofuels and chemicals.

Dr. Altpeter received his Dipl. Ing. Agr. degree (MS equivalent) in Crop Science in 1990; and a PhD. equivalent (Dr. sc. agr.) in 1994 in Plant Breeding & Biotechnology both from the University of Hohenheim in Germany. He was a very productive postdoctoral research associate with Dr. Indra Vasil in cereal transformation at the University of Florida (UF) from 1994 to 1997. He then served as Group Leader of a crop biotechnology team at the Plant Genome Resource Center of the IPK Gatersleben, Germany from 1997 to 2001. In December 2001, he joined the faculty member at the University of Florida where he was promoted to Associate Professor in 2008 and to Full Professor in 2012. Dr. Altpeter’s research focus has been on crop biotechnology.

To date, Dr. Altpeter has mentored more than 18 graduate students and supervised 25 postdoctoral research associates while at UF. Additionally, he has trained many undergraduate students and hosted numerous visiting scientists.  Dr. Altpeter often introduces undergraduates to plant biotechnology research by employing them as undergraduate laboratory assistants on his numerous projects.  Many of these went on to successfully pursue graduate degrees. Likewise, he has trained many graduate students who have become world-class scientists.  One former doctoral student remarked: Dr. Altpeter was always in the lab and worked closely with his students. His desire was to be where the experiments were conducted and be always available to his students.  He provided an experience that makes young scientists understand what it takes to be successful in life.

Eighty percent of Dr. Altpeter’s assignment at the University of Florida is dedicated to crop improvement research while 20% is dedicated to teaching including the following courses: AGR 5307 Molecular Genetics for Crop Improvement; PCB 5530 Plant Molecular Biology and Genomics; AGR5321 Genetic Improvement of Plants; and AGR4320 Plant Breeding. Dr. Altpeter’s consistently high student teaching and faculty peer evaluations over the last decade demonstrate his unwavering dedication to excellence in teaching. Students completing his courses consistently comment that he is a challenging but very fair teacher.

Others researchers have recognized his significant achievements. Dr. Altpeter received the University of Florida Research Foundation Professorship award both in 2013 and 2018. In 2018 he also was elected as a SIVB Fellow.

Dr. Altpeter has authored and co-authored more than 60 peer reviewed journal articles and 13 book chapters. The vast majority of the peer reviewed journal articles are with his students or postdocs as senior author. Many of these publications are in high impact journals like Nature Biotechnology, Plant Cell, and Plant Biotechnology Journal. In 2014, Dr. Altpeter was recognized with the University of Florida-IFAS High Impact Publication award. He actively promotes participation of his students and postdocs in scientific competitions. Obviously, he is an excellent mentor and guides his students and postdocs to conduct high quality and impact research. This is exemplified by his students who have won more than 40 awards including several from SIVB. Likewise, Dr. Altpeter has been awarded two patents and recently filed four more in the field of crop biotechnology. His research team pioneered targeted genome editing in sugarcane, a challenging crop with a complex genome. This included both targeted co-mutagenesis of more than 100 genes to obtain a loss of function phenotype, as well as precision nucleotide substitutions for gain of function. He succeeded in applying metabolic engineering to convert sugarcane into an oil-producing crop, a milestone that laid the foundation for the new Bioenergy Science Center funded with $115M by DOE.

Without question, Dr. Altpeter’s professional service to the scientific community has been exemplary. He has served as an associate editor for The Plant Genome, Crop Science, Plant Cell Tissue and Organ Culture, Journal of Plant Biotechnology, and subject editor for Plant Breeding. Serving in many capacities, he has also been a very active SIVB member for more than 13 years. This has included serving on the Board of Directors for 2 different terms, SIVB Program Chair (2012 and 2018), Chair, PBS section (2010–2012), Chair, co-chair and Jr-chair of the PBS program committee (2007–2009). In addition, Dr. Altpeter has served on the Awards Committee, Long-Range Planning and the Membership Committees along with serving as the convenor of many SIVB research program sessions.

In conclusion, the SIVB Distinguished Scientist Award serves to recognize mid-career scientists who have made significant contributions to advance our knowledge of in vitro biology. Fredy Altpeter has become a world recognized scientist in crop biotechnology. He has effectively developed and applied transgenic, intragenic and genome editing technology for the genetic improvement of cereals, turf and biomass/bioenergy crops. The impact he has had on training students and mentoring young plant biotechnology scientists is unsurpassed. His unfaltering dedication to fulfilling the SIVB mission has been exemplary and serves as a model for all to follow. This is a well-deserved honor.

Submitted by

Michael Kane, Professor Emeritus
University of Florida 

Robert Gilbert, Dean for Research
University of Florida