Global Plant Breeding
Informal Discussion: the Future of Plant Breeding (DRAFT)
Held at the ASHS / ISHS meetings, Toronto, Canada, Aug 13, 2002, 10-12
Raporteur: Ann Marie Thro, USDA,CSREES
Discussion leader: Michael Havey, USDA, ARS/Univ.Wisconsin
The meeting was an informal opportunity to share concerns and to brainstorm
about possible actions to contribute to a strong future for public plant
breeding. About 40 persons attended, mostly U.S. plant breeders with
a sprinkling of international guests. This was a remarkable number,
given several overlapping activities scheduled for that morning, suggesting
that the topic is on the minds of many. A particularly important paper
session was starting at 11, which motivated the group to get right to
The main action conclusion was to consider setting up an interactive
plant breeding contact web site, as an alternative to an additional
professional association, which would be too costly in funds and time.
Needed are a host site and a webmaster. When I (AMT) get back from a
short-term fellowship this fall, I will be glad to start looking into
how these needs could be met (though not volunteering to be the webmaster!
). Any ideas or volunteers are welcome in the meantime.
Mike Havey opened the discussion with the classic formula, P=GxE (phenotype
is the product of genotype and environment). Plant breeders in the 20th
century worked mainly with phenotypes and environments. They developed
methods for estimating heritable components of phenotype and made great
progress. With the availability of new genomics techniques, students
in the first years of the 21 century are mostly interested in genotype.
Yet skills in working with phenotypes in environments will still be
There is a brain drain from plant breeding per se to genomics
and other sciences having more funding. How can gifted individuals be
attracted to training in plant breeding?
- Comments during the discussion:
- Plant breeding will continue to be important because quick
fixes dont work in practice (the example of Flavr
Savr tomatoes, useful gene but wrong tomatoes)
- There is a danger that all forms of genetic improvement will
get lost in the biotechnology controversy
- Ally with grower groups to create a strong state political voice
(AMT comment: this can be highly effective, e.g. the rice growers
of Arkansas have just funded an endowed chair of rice breeding.
However, it would be insufficient as a sole strategy, since many
crops from which public benefit could be derived, do not have
large or wealthy grower associations)
- Use the net (the electronic internet) to come together
for discussions as a single group Plant breeders are split into
agronomy and horticulture breeders. This makes it hard for us
to speak with one voice. Few would have the resources to devote
to an additional professional association, despite the need for
some form of organization serving all plant breeding. Consequently
we must look for other solutions, such as the web, to stay in
touch as a profession.
- Reinvent ourselves. Public perception is important. If plant
breeding sounds old fashioned to the public, is it time
for a new name? (what? Someone suggested the basis of Civilization--
well, thats true, and powerful, but a bit awkward as a name
for a discipline!). Some groups such as the National Science Foundation
have been very successful in using name changes to create new
interest, even when the activity stayed much the same. (Added
by AMT after attending a Sept 4 briefing on the National Research
Council report The National Plant Genome Initiative: Objectives
for 2003-2008 even some of the genomics researchers
are thinking its time to rename themselves! The pace of
change accelerates . . . )
- Tell people why they should care about plant breeding: Why plant
breeding is essential for economic growth, national security.
environmental preservation. genetic diversity, rural economics.
- Comment during the discussion: People wouldnt have
jobs sitting in air-conditioning and typing away at their computers,
if it were not for plant breeding.
- There is a need to tell our story. We should document the contributions
of plant breeding (and also document public-private collaboration
in those contributions)
- The discussion concluded with a request for proposed solutions or
of a solution. Proposed were:
- More funding e.g. universities work with federal funding agencies
and the Office of Management and Budget to link agencies Ag research
budget requests to the Presidents priorities e.g. national
- Especially, more funding is needed to integrate basic and applied
plant genetics/plant breeding research
- More awareness of plant breeding and (inseparable) of public
research in general
- Public ownership of decisions about plant breeding objectives
- Balance between public and private roles
- Recruit, not only in college, but at the high school level Advertising
figures in several of these suggestions. How should/could plant
breeding advertise? This is something outside our expertise!
- As a point of information, it was noted that the FAO plant breeding
newsletter is being reactivated this fall. As an FAO project, its
primary purpose is to provide information andcontacts to plant breeders
in developing countries. Although not a substitute for a U. S. (or
North American) plant breeders contact point, this newsletter
is a welcome mechanism for communication and cohesion among plant
breeders in general.
- The editors email is email@example.com.
All are invited, even exhorted, to submit contributions.
- Many thanks to ASHS and Mike Neff , ASHS Exec. Director, for the
time slot and the room.
- These notes are being e-mailed to all who attended the session.
Please share with colleagues or with anyone Ive inadvertently
- Submitted 6 Sept 02
- by: Ann Marie Thro
- National Program Leader, Plant Genetics
- USDA/CSREES/Plant & Animal Systems
- Tel 1 202 401-6702, Fax 1 202 401 4888
- Waterfront Centre, Rm 3443
- 800 9th St., S.W., Washington, DC 20024 US