Saturday, June 15, 2024

Well Deserved Recognition

The Wild Arachis Species Special Session of the APRES annual meeting is now named to honor Dr. Charles Simpson.

The American Peanut Research and Education Society recently announced that the 2024 annual meeting would host the inaugural Charles Simpson Wild Arachis Species Session. The APRES annual meeting is July 9-11 at the Omni Oklahoma City hotel. This groundbreaking session, dedicated entirely to wild peanut species presentations, honors the profound contributions of Dr. Charles Simpson to peanut research worldwide.

The idea behind naming the session for Dr. Simpson, professor emeritus in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Soil and Crop Sciences plant breeding program, came from Shyam Tallury, curator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s peanut collection. At the 2023 APRES meeting in Savannah, Georgia, Tallury made a presentation about Dr. Simpson and proposed naming the wild species session in his honor. The legacy of Dr. Simpson is immense and continues to this day.

“His research contributions with peanut wild species collections are unparalleled and undisputable, and without his collaboration and support, replenishment of new species materials into the USDA genebank collection wouldn’t be possible,” says Tallury.

Making A National Treasure

The Arachis Wild Species Collection, considered a National Treasure, is maintained in the USDA-ARS managed genebank in Griffin, Georgia. The collection contains about 9,000 cultivated species accessions and 550 wild species accessions. Germplasm is regularly requested by researchers and has contributed to the development of several important peanut cultivars in the United States.

In Brazil, 2004, Dr. Simpson and Dr. Jose Valls use a new tool, GPS, to mark locations they had been to many times before. They also collected more wild species seed.

“The germplasm collection is a testimony to the vision and dedication of several prominent national and international collectors with funding support from USDA, the International Board for Plant Genetic Resources and logistic support from the host countries,” Tallury says. “Prominent national collectors included Don Banks, Walton Gregory, Ray Hammons, Charles Simpson and David Williams.

“Among them, Charles Simpson has led the effort to replenish and restore the USDA Arachis wild species collection since 1977.”

Collection, Taxonomy And Continued Guidance

But Tallury says his impact goes beyond the accumulation of the accessions in the genebank. His early research with Arachis species led to the taxonomic understanding of the genomes and development of different introgression pathways that led to the production of interspecific hybrid populations by several researchers later.

“One of his major contributions was the release in 1993 of the tri-species derived amphidiploid with very high levels of root knot nematode resistance in peanut. Subsequently, a RKN resistant cultivar, COAN, was released by his group, which was later used in other breeding programs to release additional cultivars with near immunity to RKN.

“With the current genomic revolution effort in peanut, characterization and use of Arachis wild species for peanut improvement has been gaining prominence lately,” says Tallury. “These research efforts wouldn’t have been possible without the genebank collection and Dr. Simpson’s contribution of Arachis species accessions.”

Even now when Tallury needs assistance or guidance with growing a wild peanut accession, Dr. Simpson is quick to respond with the expertise and experience for a more successful attempt. He is simply a pioneer in the area of peanut genetic resources conservation and use.

John Cason, assistant professor of Peanut Breeding and Genetics at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research station in Stephenville, says Dr. Simpson’s priorities are faith, family, peanuts and football, in that order.

“If you know how much he loves peanuts, that will tell you how much he loves his family,” says Cason, who says he has spent more time with Simpson over the years than any other man, save his own father. “He has preached to me the mantra ‘know your plants’ for over 30 years, and I can honestly say I’ve never met anyone who knows more about peanuts. To this day, I still ask him questions on a daily basis, and he never fails to point me in the right direction.”

Support From The Peanut Research Foundation

While Tallury made the proposal for the Charles Simpson Wild Arachis Species Session at the 2024 annual meeting, APRES president Rebecca Bennett, research plant pathologist with the USDA Peanut and Small Grains Research Unit in El Reno, Oklahoma, says the Peanut Research Foundation is providing financial support for the session.

Dr. Simpson stands with three Guarani tribesmen in southeast Bolivia in 1994. Simpson sought their help in finding wild peanut species. When found, he dug into the soil and sifted out the seed. The tribesmen asked if they were edible and were excited to find out about this new source of food.

“The Peanut Foundation is supporting this inaugural session by funding the travel of a special guest speaker and former colleague of Dr. Simpson, Dr. David Williams,” says Bennett.

“The Peanut Research Foundation is proud to help support the inaugural session of the Charles Simpson Wild Arachis Species Session at the 2024 APRES Conference,” says Steven Brown, executive director. “The foundation is supporting research to utilize the treasure of genetic diversity in Dr. Simpson’s collection. His insight to identify and preserve these species will pay huge dividends to the peanut industry.”

This premier event, which could not be more aptly named, promises to be an enriching and inspiring experience, bringing together researchers, educators and industry leaders from around the world to collaborate, learn and explore innovative research in the field. PG

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