Invited Speakers

Thomas Clemente

Thomas Clemente is an expert in plant genetic engineering and a professor at University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Click here to learn more about Dr. Clemente and his research.

Jim Kirkwood

KirwoodJim Kirkwood brings 38 years of cross-functional experience in the Food, Ag and Pet Food industry including assignments in Innovation, R&D, Marketing, General Management, Operations, Central Research and Quality.

Jim recently retired from General Mills Inc. as Chief Science and Technology Development Officer and Vice President, GTECH; (General Mills’ Global Center for Technology Creation).  In this role Jim led a team of research scientist and engineers in identifying and developing broadly applicable strategic technologies to “change the game” and enable sustainable growth for all of the company’s Global Operating units.  He was responsible for leading GMI’s central technology organization which included developing technology in Crop Bio sciences, grain, macro ingredients, advanced packaging/process technologies as well as technologies to maximize consumer experience in the areas of taste, texture and trust. His team additionally was responsible for advancing the company’s connected innovation effort.

Jim founded the GTECH organization in 2006 after spending the previous 10 years leading application R&D and innovation efforts in several key business units.  These included Director roles in Pillsbury’s Refrigerated/Frozen Baked Goods Division, and VP of R&D for Snacks and Small Planet (organic) Foods Innovation.  During his tenure in Snacks, several large and very profitable new businesses were created including the Sweet and Salty and Fiber 1 Snack franchises.  

He also spent five years as Vice President of the GMI One Global Meals Platform where he led support for the six Divisions which offer Meals and side dish products.  His team’s responsibilities included the stewardship of product quality as well as the development of new products, new differential technologies, product/package Improvements and productivity for the Brands in the Meals Global platform including Green Giant, Old El Paso, Totino’s, Progresso, Hamburger Helper, Wanchai Ferry and Betty Crocker Potatoes.

Cross-functionally Jim served in General Mills Supply Chain, Sourcing Technology and Supplier Quality Assurance leadership roles.  Prior to General Mills, Jim also served in various cross-functional leadership positions at Heinz, Quaker Oats and Kellogg including General Manger/Marketing Director for the Kibbles ‘n Bits Pet Food business, Director of New Products Marketing for Quaker Pet Foods and several R&D product, process and package development roles in the food and pet food business.

Jim's education includes an MBA from the University of Chicago and a BS in Chemical Engineering from Purdue University. 

Vance Whitaker

WhitakerA native of Oak Ridge, North Carolina, Dr. Vance M. Whitaker earned his B.S. degrees in Horticultural Science and Agricultural Economics from North Carolina State University.  He later earned his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Minnesota in Plant Breeding and Molecular Genetics.  Since 2009 Dr. Whitaker has directed the strawberry breeding program at the University of Florida, which develops cultivars that are widely grown in Florida and around the world. His releases include Sweet Sensation® ‘Florida127’ (2014) and ‘Florida Beauty’ (2017).  

Dr. Whitaker’s cultivar development program is enhanced through genetic characterization of traits, primarily disease resistance and fruit quality. These discoveries have led to the routine application of marker-assisted selection and genome-wide selection methodologies in the breeding program. He is fortunate to collaborate with an excellent statewide team of researchers in genomics, pathology, plant physiology and postharvest quality.

Dr. Whitaker resides in Brandon, Florida with his wife Terri and children Isaac, Claire and Eve and serves as a non-vocational pastor at Gulf Coast Community Church. He enjoys playing the guitar, dating his wife and spending time with his family and friends whenever possible.    

Natalia Dudareva

DudarevaNatalia Dudareva received her M.S. in Biology and Biochemistry from Novosibirsk State University, Russia and her PhD training at the Institute of Biochemistry, Kiev, Ukraine and the University of Louis Pasteur, Strasbourg, France. Natalia is currently a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Biochemistry at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Research in Dudareva laboratory integrates the power of genetic and biochemical approaches with metabolic flux analysis and modeling to understand the biochemical and molecular mechanisms controlling the formation of an array of primary and secondary (phenylpropanoid and terpenoid) metabolites in plants.