Plant Breeding at Public Institutions

The committee held a webinar on Tuesday, January 27, 2015, to gather information from invited speakers:
Click here to view the full webinar.

What is Plant Breeding?

For thousands of years, humans have been choosing the plants they like to eat and use. In doing so, we have changed plants in remarkable ways–physiologically, morphologically, reproductively, and chemically. Unlike their wild relatives, domesticated small grains like wheat and barley no longer shatter. Strawberries flower constantly and are larger. Carrots are tasty, orange, and uniform in shape, unlike their woody, gnarly, and white progenitors. These few examples illustrate how human preferences have driven genetic changes in domesticated plants. Humans have preferentially propagated plants with the most desirable characteristics in the field or saved their seed. With improved comprehension of life cycles and heredity, we became better at recognizing which crop varieties were good parents and started cross-pollinating them to develop new ones. This process—intentionally identifying, hybridizing, selecting, and propagating plants with desirable traits and genes—is known as plant breeding.

Why did the committee hear about plant breeding?

Plant breeders are the scientists and researchers who develop new crop varieties used by farmers and other consumers. They and their supporting teams use diverse techniques and technologies to increase productivity, quality, and other traits of economically important plant species. For the past several decades, plant breeders have used genetic information (DNA) to help guide decisions about which parents to use, crosses to make, and offspring to select in the next generation. If a desirable trait or gene is lacking from naturally existing plant taxa or is exceptionally difficult to access, genetic engineering is a technology that sometimes enables the creation of genetic variation that may otherwise be difficult or impossible to generate using traditional plant-breeding practices.

The following slideshow provides a brief introduction to the topic.

Watch the Plant Breeding Webinar and hear what the speakers presented to the committee!

Jim Holland (00:05:05 mark) discussed how corn breeders in the public sector, those in universities and government agencies, have been involved in research and development of new varieties over the past several decades. View bio

Jim Holland is a USDA-ARS research geneticist and a professor in the Department of Crop Science, North Carolina State University. Dr. Holland studies maize breeding and genetics, with emphasis on the study of genetic diversity in maize, its impact on quantitative traits, and its use for improving temperate corn. He was an associate and technical editor for Crop Science for nine years and is currently an associate editor for G3: Genes, Genomes, and Genetics. He received his B.A. from Johns Hopkins University, M.S. from University of Wisconsin, and Ph.D. from North Carolina State University.

Jane Dever (00:34:13 mark) discussed the nuances of identifying and using valuable crop traits in cotton breeding, from both commercial and public breeder perspectives. View bio

Jane Dever is a professor and cotton breeder at Texas A&M AgriLife Research in Lubbock. She has been Project Leader for the Cotton Improvement Program since September 2008. The focus of her research is the development of public cultivars and the screening of exotic collections for relevant native traits to be used in breeding cotton. She has been Principal Investigator for the project, “Development of Cultivars and IPM Systems for Organic Cotton Production,” funded by an integrative grant through the USDA National Institute of Food Agriculture’s Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative. She is also Technical Advisor to a development project with Catholic Relief Services in Burkina Faso, “Revenue through Cotton Livelihoods, Trade, and Equity,” funded by USDA Foreign Agricultural Service. Dr. Dever received a B.S. in textile engineering (1983), M.S. in crop science (1986) and Ph.D. in agronomy (1989), all from Texas Tech University. After completing her degree, she held the following career appointments: coordinator, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service AgriPartners program; Senior Research Scientist, BioTex; Textile Engineer, Plains Cotton Cooperative Association; and Head of Materials Evaluation, Fiber and Biopolymer Research Institute at Texas Tech University. She was Bayer CropScience Global Cotton Breeding and Development Manager for 10 years prior to returning to Texas A&M. Dr. Dever is the Plains and Western chair of the National Cotton Variety Testing Committee and secretary of the CottonGEN database steering committee and of National Association of Plant Breeder’s communication committee. She served as Associate Editor for Cotton, Journal of Plant Registrations. She was appointed a scientific member of the National Genetic Resources Advisory Council in 2011 and has served on the Joint Cotton Breeding Policy Committee. Dr. Dever is a recipient of the 2007 Bayer CropScience Gold Laureate Award, 2012 Cotton Genetics Research Award, and 2012 “Golden Hoe” award presented by the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative. She lives on a cotton, grain sorghum, soybean, and wheat farm northeast of Lubbock, Texas, where she grew up.

Irwin Goldman (01:03:25 mark) discussed the role of genetic diversity in crop breeding and the regulations that modern breeders encounter when developing new crop varieties. View bio

Irwin L. Goldman is a professor and the chair of the Department of Horticulture at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he has worked for 23 years. His expertise is in breeding and genetics of cross-pollinated vegetable crops, including carrot, onion, and table beet. He has developed and co-developed numerous inbred lines and open pollinated populations of these crops, many of which are in use in cultivars around the world. His program has over 70 active licenses for this germplasm. He has been active in training graduate and undergraduate students in plant breeding and horticulture. Dr. Goldman teaches two courses in plant breeding and plant genetics as well as a course on vegetable crops, a course in evolutionary biology, and a course in plants and human wellbeing. He is a co-founder of the Open Source Seed Initiative and was a faculty advisor to the founding members of the Student Organic Seed Symposium. Dr. Goldman served from 2004–2010 as an Associate Dean, Vice Dean, and Interim Dean of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at UW–Madison. He is a fellow of the American Society for Horticultural Science. He serves as a Technical Editor for the journal Crop Science and on the editorial board of Plant Breeding Reviews. He received a B.S. degree from the University of Illinois, an M.S. from North Carolina State University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin.

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