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the foundation
of civilization

Plant breeding:
the foundation
of agriculture

Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee

Subcommittee - Healthy, Well-nourished Population

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This is the report from the subcommittee on a Healthy, Well-nourished Population of the Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee. It met as part of the Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee in Cary, North Carolina on February 7-9, 2007.

This report was prepared by:

  • Shannon Pinson
  • Philipp Simon

Part I – Summary of Thursday afternoon discussion

  • How plant breeding can support this goal?
    • Common ground among small groups
    • "Better Foods through Plant Breeding" - this statement provided focus to the group discussion.
      • Both group discussions on Thursday were based on the following belief: Plant breeders can change most any trait – with transgenics if necessary. However, choosing what to select for and developing effective selection protocols are the difficulties.
      • Improved diet plays an important role in reducing the incidence of many health-related problems: nutrient deficiencies, allergenicity, obesity, and diabetes, among others. Plant breeders have contributed and will continue to contribute to improved diet by
        • Increasing health-promoting food properties – antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, micro and macronutrients, resistant starches (slower to be digested) and bioavailability
        • Decreasing unhealthy factors (i.e., allergens, unhealthy oils)
        • Increasing access to nutritious food by altering a food commodity’s shelf life, improving crop adaptability so they can be locally grown, and improving the affordability of healthy foods
        • Increase consumption of healthy foods by improving the availability and desirability of healthy foods –flavor, appearance, convenience
        • Increase pest resistance to reduce chemical usage
        • Utilization of underutilized crops – adaptation, yield & economics
        • Expand knowledge of health benefits of foods
    • Other notes:
      • Plant breeders have much more variation than that which gets marketed - - some of that may be useful in a new market/application, but food developers generally start with what’s out on the market. Perhaps these genotypes should be collectively publicized.
      • Roles played by Breeders:
        • Identify genetic variability, select desired traits into higher yielding, adapted backgrounds.
        • Provide key germplasm/seed samples to multi-disciplinary teams to prove health benefits
    • Need to encourage diverse consumption patterns - - at the political level, consumer level, research level. We breeders as well, need to present a unified face for the promotion of agriculture as a source of healthy food.
  • What is needed to assemble a factual and compelling case (common ground among small groups)
    • Of all the breeding success stories – those with increased health benefits are most media-friendly
    • Have many past success stories - - need to advertise them - - be sure to focus on health benefits …. review article, press releases, symposia, contact with journalists
      • high lycopene tomatoes and watermelon (much higher in antioxidants)
      • crops with healthier oils,
      • carrots that are sweeter and higher in beta-carotene
      • high specific gravity potatoes that absorb less fat when fried (healthier chips)
      • Wider adaptation of high nutrient foods like blueberries, pomegranates, corn, soybean, forages
      • Older stories are still relevant…. String beans no longer stringy, now called snap beans
    • Public education successes: cranberries, blueberries, pomegranates, fiber, Calcium, garlic & onions (blood thinners) are available and pursued for health value
    • Could develop a NEW success story - build a team from breeder up, go for serious funding. Pick a ‘hot topic’ relevant to multiple crops and try for a major, nationally funded, multi-disciplinary success story (model after the crop CAPs)
    • Review article(s) of plant breeding health impact in Science, Nutritional articles
  • Partnerships to build and/or ways to find out what partnerships to build (common ground among small groups)
    • Before we breed:
      • Amongst commodity groups
      • Breeders
      • Nutritionists, dieticians
      • Chemists
      • medical scientists (cancer scientists, cardiovascular disease)
      • health specialty support groups – Am. Diabetic Assoc., American Cancer Soc., Low Glycemic Index Grains, Celiac Disease
      • Ethnic groups – African-American and Native America – high diabetes incidence
      • Economists
      • Sociologists
      • FAO
      • CGIAR
      • Policy makers – impact farm bill?
    • During breeding
      • Foundations and granting agencies - NIH
      • Commodity groups
      • FDA labeling
      • FAO
      • CGIAR
    • After breeding
      • Commodity groups – producers, processors, marketers…
      • Economists
      • Sociologists – cultural knowledge
      • FAO
      • CGIAR
      • Policy makers – so they fund the next round
      • Media
    • Fusarium head blight in wheat is a model to follow

Part II. Proposed strategy and action plan

  • Proposed five-year strategy and major five-year actions
  • General Plan:
    • Advertise past successes where plant breeding created healthier food & had human impact
    • Build consensus among commodities to promote all healthier food – build a unified front.
    • Create new connections with nutritionists, medical community, & food industry
      • What changes should we be selecting for?
    • Breed to create healthier foods
  • Methods for Partnering:
    • Join medical centers with plant science departments (i.e. Crops for Health programs) – Research, education, commercialization – In process now at Colorado State, MSU, NCSU, Texas A&M, UW, USDA labs - - seed money could be sought from commodity groups.
    • Interactive workshops with nutritionists – see 2-yr plan
    • Position Papers readable to the Public – Chair identify people to work on
    • Websites – initiate in 2-yr plan
    • Paid advertisements
    • National crop nutrient database of new crop varieties (baseline data) - - eventually gather data on germplasm collections. Phil Simon has begun discussions
    • Food network
    • Connect with human genomics (individually tailored diets – nutrigenomics)
  • General method to develop improved foods
    • Identify “the compound(s)” to change - chemists, nutritionists, allergists - - need exploratory research yet….
      • Which protein = allergenic
      • Which antioxidants are most effective
    • Verify their health impact – medical community, animal feeding trials
    • Identify genetic variability for compound – breeder
    • Identify how to change it – how many genes? Need transgenics?
    • Pleiotropy
    • Work with others on human genomics (individually tailored diets – nutrigenomics)
  • Proposed two-year actions
    • How to impact the farm bill - - ASAP!! Goal: Get the language to allow the desired distribution to take place.
    • How? Corral commodity groups and professional societies such as Specialty Crop Coalition – NPC Don Sklarczyk has connections that Baenziger can use. Ann Marie Thro’s office.
      • As Baenziger contacts Gale Buchanan’s office to thank him for coming, also share ideas on the farm bill language to accomplish a plant breeding initiative (not a genomics initiative).
      • Universities also have lobbyists going to Washington – Wehner - NCSU, Hancock- MSU, Scott – U of F, Brown – Cornell
    • Plan Interactive workshops with nutritionists
      • Simon will go to nutrition planning meeting within USDA, there will connect with USDA-ARS NPS Nutritional NP 107 Leaders.
      • 2007 ASA – symposium for Crops for Health – Pat Byrne will identify a speaker list,
      • Apply for workshop money – Linda Pollak research who/where to get money
      • AAAS – 2008, in Boston Breeding Symposium being organized by Baenziger = full, establish companion symposium on nutritional topics – Cal Qualset will present proposal for a nutritional-breeding symposium, assisted by Pat Byrne, Linda Pollak, Phil Simon.
      • Commodity groups - - member of this committee go to their commodity groups to encourage interaction with nutritionists – advertise opportunities on “our website”. Ex: National Potato Promotions Board – Tim O’Conner will be contacted by Sklarczyk – connect potato breeders with nutritionists, advertise past success stories.
    • Develop a NEW success story - build a team from breeder to medical partners to prove final impact. Pick a ‘hot topic’ of interest to multiple crops and try for a major, nationally funded, multi-disciplinary, multi-crop success story (model after the CSREES-NRI CAPs)
      • How to get a CSREES-NRI program established
        • Start with NPS - Talk with NP 301 (Genetics and Germplasm) & NP 107 NPLs to discuss need for more connection between plant breeders and nutritionists (Phil Simon speak with NP 107 next week!).
        • They then approach Buchanan’s office, NRI, etc. asking for a program promoting joint research.
      • Website of our interests – advertise ourselves to medical researchers, – Mike Havey will produce template for us.
      • Plant Breeding health impact publications – Plant Breeding health impact review – by Pollak & Simon, add nutritionist to the mix?
      • Write paper from National Academy of Sciences – high profile publication that plant breeding has had impact on human nutrition, could have more
      • Group members – approach your association media group – pursue articles on your health-benefits research. Send to Wehner too and to Havey.
    • Build consensus among commodities to promote all healthier food – build a unified front.
  • Followup discussion among some subcommittee members
    • Plant breeding is the most effective applied biological science to meet the daily food, feed, fiber, and biofuel needs of modern civilization. Plant breeding is the best competitive science and best solution to achieve these basic human needs. There has been a reduction in the public funding for field-based plant breeding that will expand the knowledge base of this applied science, train new plant breeders, and continue to work with industry to develop improved crops. The Healthy Population Subcommittee proposes several actions to achieve this goal, but we are just one subcommittee. We strongly urge the entire PBCC to adapt, as it's most urgent goal, action to determine the best ways to establish significant competitive funding with an emphasis on field-based data generation that is open to proposals for research all crops, and with a respectable overhead (e.g such as NSF or NIH) to encourage universities to hire new faculty focused on plant breeding. This new pool of funds is necessary to multiply the achievements to be realized by ongoing plant breeding industry and USDA funds for research by public institutions.
  • Participants in Health Nutrition Subcommittee
    • Mike Havey, USDA-ARS, Univ. Wis.
    • Shannon Pinson, USDA-ARS, Beaumont, TX
    • Donald Sklarczyk, National Potato Council
    • Pat Byrne, Colorado State Univ.
    • Ray Kleeman, Monsanto, St. Louis
    • Darlene Lawson, ProfiGen, Mebane, NC
    • Greg Tolla, Seminis, Woodland CA
    • Jay Romsa, General Mills
    • Jay Scott, Univ. Fla.
    • Phillips Griffiths, Cornell Univ., NYAES
    • Jeff Stewart, Agriculture and AgriFood Canada
    • Todd Wehner, NC State Univ.
    • Mark Clough, NC State Univ.
    • Gina Fernandez, NC State Univ.
    • Julia Piaskowski, Univ. Idaho
    • Jim Hancock, Mich State Univ.
    • Krystina M. Ladd, Integra Hybrids LLC
    • Susan Brown, Cornell Univ.
    • Barry L. Tillman, Univ. Fla.
    • Cal Qualset, UC Davis
    • Linda Pollak, USDA-ARS
    • Phil Simon, USDA-ARS


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Page citation: Wehner, T.C. Global Plant Breeding, 30 March 2005;
design by C.T. Glenn; send questions to T.C. Wehner; last revised on 30 September, 2009