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Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee

Questions from Conference Calls to be Answered by Membership

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These are the three questions from the November 29, 2007 conference call of the Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee. Input is solicited from the PBCC; responses have been listed below each question.

  1. What constitutes competitive research in plant breeding, deserving of funding from competitive grants?
    • Roy Scott
      • Potential for enhancing economic development
      • Collaborative; includes multiple disciplines
      • Benefits to a broad cross section of the country, or large region
      • Can be offered by multiple groups or institutions to get the best bang for the research dollars
    • Ronnie Coffman
      • Long-term competitive grants program (10-year grants, renewable?). Of course, federal funding is on an annual basis, so this may be difficult
      • In assessing any program, the things you can really look at are in the following continuum: Inputs-->Process-->Outputs-->Outcomes-->Impact
      • Inputs. This is what we are looking for from the federal government, of course, but the quantity and quality of inputs of the host institution, the state government, and producers are very important in justifying the federal contribution. The federal government cannot do it all.
      • Process. The five-year (or less frequent) reviews commissioned by CSREES and/or the host institutions are an important indicator of the quality of the process in a particular program.
      • Outputs. Scientific papers, germplasm releases, and variety releases are the outputs.
      • Outcomes. How widely are the varieties from a program utilized, measured in terms of acreage planted? This should be viewed over the long term because programs will always wax and wane. For instance, Cornell's soft white winter wheat program covers the majority of the acreage for this type, but there was a time when Michigan State's program covered a lot of the acreage, so redundancy is needed.
      • Impact. True impact -- the improvement of peoples lives in economic and social terms -- is not always easy to measure. But we have had some economists who did it -- people like Ruttan and Evenson. It might be wise to set aside 10% of any competitive pool for monitoring, evaluation, and impact assessment so that we always have ammunition to justify continuation of the program. In other words, we need to get the important economists on our side.
    • Todd Wehner
      • The best research is risky, has general application, and has large impact
      • Plant breeding grants should be 3 to 10 years to get real work done
      • Germplasm enhancement should be included in supported work so that useful traits get put into useable germplasm - I have observed that things tend to get dropped after the initial research phase by public sector breeders due to lack of support for enhancement work
      • Funded researchers should be encouraged to work with industry at the planning as well as final testing stages
      • Funded researchers should be encouraged to integrate their work with other disciplines
    • Marcelo Carena
      • Competitive research includes all aspects from plant breeding (from Germplasm choice and adaptation to cultivar development and training) and Partnering with industry: 1) long-term germplasm adaptation and improvement (currently not funded); 2) ideas to make the process of breeding faster: not only new technology makes breeding faster but the successful use of winter nurseries (e.g. allowing 3-4 generations per year); 3) breeding methodologies for abiotic stress tolerance; 4) genetic analysis of quantitative traits across tools (quantitative genetics, mating designs, molecular biology, physiology, etc); 5) successful and applied methods to reduce GxE interactions; 6) broadening genetic diversity; 7) planning and designing field experiments, statistical approaches; 8) projects demonstrating applied and clear impact
      • In any of these categories there are plenty of thesis research topics. However, I want to emphasize the need for long-term funding. Breeding requires infrastructure (e.g. Adequate cold storage facilities, research machinery, etc). If we are going to depend on competitive grants without good infrastructure it would not work.
    • Greg Tolla
      • Trait introgression from exotic germplasm
      • Interdisciplinary program with good networking with Pathology, Entomology, Soil science, Molecular genetics
      • Strong interaction with feedback and support from the crop commodity group for the focus breeding crop.
    • Karen Moldenhauer
      • new and novel approach to methodology,
      • identification of new and novel genes for deployment in actual breeding programs
      • integration into a new system which may increase sustainability of cropping system or be a novel cropping system, or an unstudied cropping system
      • likelihood of success, ability of research to accomplish their goals
    • Mark Brick
      • Breeding for crops with improved health benefits and nutritional components
      • Use of Proteomics, genomics and metabolomics in crop breeding
    • Tommy Carter
      • Statistical techniques for identifying and quantifying genetic bottlenecks/genetic vulnerability in breeding. Bring together world experts for a meeting. Let them chart a course for future grants.
      • Something in the area of pre-breeding. In major crops, this is important but has not received sufficient recognition. We need to keep the concept alive.
      • A robust simulation program that could be applied to a number of rather intractable breeding questions, e.g. the comparing of breeding methods for efficiency.
      • A team to develop and teach a world-class abiotic-stress breeding course. No such course exists, in my opinion, and is not likely to come about through the most recent CSREES RFP on drought tolerance and N efficiency. Only a few people have the knowledge to teach even a part of this and they are spread over several universities. This would have to be a special national effort seeking only the best experts in the field.
    • Tom Stalker
      • projects that evaluate germplasm populations for specific traits (especially when the USDA national PI collection or parts of it are used).
      • development of marker systems for specific traits and identification of markers linked to traits of interest
      • development of populations and methodology to select specific multigenic traits, such as drought resistance.
    • Ann Marie Thro
      • There are novelty/innovation criteria and there are quality / value to nation criteria. A program like NRI can only fund based on novelty criteria. Should there be a grants program for pbing (and endeavors of similar nature in this regard) that is based on need, quality, and value rather than novelty / innovation? And if so, what are the quality criteria?
      • In the meantime, some novelty / innovation criteria for plant breeding might include:
      • Developing a new method for creating, measuring, quantifying, analyzing, and/or selecting genetic variation, especially genetic variation that is critically needed and/or difficult to obtain, measure or select (classical plant breeding research)
      • New methods for predicting gain from selection and/or most efficient use of resources in a plant breeding program
      • The above two could be “with or without” integration of molecular tools
      • First "proof of concept" efforts to select for a new trait or environment
      • Developing an effective new way of integrating all the components of a pbing education over time and space (but one cannot innovate constantly… or can one? Is there a need for some stability? Or not?
    • Herb Ohm
      • New and original hypotheses relating to genetic models, and their applications
      • Identification and inheritance of new genes/traits, and mapping and validation of their expression/effects
      • Development/demonstration of potential of new efficient plant breeding methodologies
      • Integration of molecular technologies and phenotyping for germplasm/cultivar development
      • Development of germplasm with new and/or new combinations of useful traits
    • Steve Baenziger
      • Comprehensiveness: does it have the breadth and depth to educate modern plant breeders
      • Past success: does it release useful germplasm, cultivars, and publications 
      • Former students: are they well educated and have they been successful 
      • Do they have a forward strategy, encompassing and embracing change
      • Facilities: research farms, equipment, access to genomics related instrumentation
      • Related departments: plant pathology, statistics, entomology, food science, nutrition
    • David Stelly
      • Foremost, the timeline for the most important plant breeding activities does not fit within time-frames of conventional competitive grant programs -- no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Funding is needed for this kind of work. In terms of the take-home, it is perhaps the most important, because most of it very applied. Without it, the follow-through is lacking, and so, aside from the esoteric value, the value of the short-term research would be lost if we cannot put the results to use in breeding programs. So, be careful that by defining criteria, you do not inadvertently indicate funding for plant breeding should be through short-term competitive grants.
      • For those elements of plant breeding research that are amenable to competitive grants (1-5 year duration), criteria would include
        1. Importance of goals - to the commodities, producers, economy, breeding discipline, overall science, education, environment (includes sustainability...)
        2. Soundness of rationale and approach
        3. Scientific rigor
        4. Likelihood of success and expected impact if successful; time lag and tangibility of success
      • Tangibility of impact is perhaps the most difficult of topics for plant breeding. A breeding program may have impact the economy in billions of dollars per year, as did Glen Burton's, but in most cases, the popular tangibility is next to zero. The time lag is a big factor, but needs to be encompassed as part of the evaluation process.
    • Keith Woeste
      • As I mentioned in the conference call, I believe an extension program that actively communicates with members of a market is fundamental to what makes plant breeding. There has to be a demonstrable synergy (or an effort to make one) between the culture of the plants on a commercial scale (the way an end user grows them) and the genetic research. The most effective programs have crafted their genetics to match specific cultural practices.
      • The only exceptions to this principle that I can think of are 1. In cases where breeding is oriented toward domestication of a previously undomesticated species. In these cases, there are probably very few, if any, accepted cultural practices or the cultural methods are being developed simultaneously with the genetics, an example would be most species of hardwood forest trees; 2. In cases when breeding is, in essence, pre-breeding, i.e., the introgression of a new resistance gene into advanced breeding lines for use by others.
      • Since recombination, evaluation, and release are the backbones of most breeding programs, any research that opens new and better ways to do these is good plant breeding research.
      • Germplasm is essential to any breeding program, so any research that demonstrably improves the speed or efficiency with which germplasm can be managed, evaluated and used is good plant breeding research.
  2. What groups or individuals should we invite to be partners with plant breeding?
    • Roy Scott
      • Producer groups
      • Seed companies (small business)
      • Consumer groups
      • K-12 Science teachers and possibly administrators of those institutions
    • Ronnie Coffman
      • Key economists and perhaps other social scientists. These should not necessarily be academic economists but people from institutions that get paid to worry about the well being of people. What about economists from the federal reserve banks? The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City has always impressed me. If we could get the leadership from these banks to tell Congress and others that we are important to the future of the country, it might carry some weight?
    • Marcelo Carena
      • If you decide for any of the following I will give you their contacts; 1) The first one that comes to mind based on our discussion yesterday is Norman Borlaug. My proposal does not mean I agree with everything he says but he would attract audiences. I do not have his contact but any ASA 2007 organizer should have it; 2) Rural development: Ricardo Salvador, Kellogg foundation, Winona Laduke, tribal community leader (for rural America or nutrition), Salvatore Ceccarelli, participatory plant breeding; 3) Ted Crosbie, Monsanto, for the need of training plant breeders; Arnel Hallauer, for how breeders should be trained
    • Karen Moldenhauer
      • pathologist, entomologist, food scientist, biotechnologist, systems agronomist, soil scientist, economists, and extension personnel
    • Mark Brick
      • US Dry Bean Council, 70 East Robbins Road, P.O. Box 550 Grapeview, WA 98546 Tel: 360-277-0112 Fax: 360-233-0612
    • Tommy Carter
      • Industry
      • Bioversity and other Rome based non-profits.
      • Heads of plant breeding centers.
      • Heads of commodity groups such as the United Soybean Board.
      • Commodity groups are being wooed by genomicist groups that threaten to siphon off breeding funds.
      • We need to remind commodity groups of trendy breeding things and that they need to maintain perspective.
    • Tom Stalker
      • The national commodity organization leaders; e.g., National Soybean Assoc., National Peanut Foundation
    • Ann Marie Thro
      • Groups to invite to next pbing cc meeting, to explore mutual benefit: one per subcommittee: I will leave this up to the subcommittees because each one is more in depth and up to date than I am. Some examples, to get us thinking, include: Nature Conservancy, Institute of Food Technologists (a society, despite its name); phytopharmacologists; regional Rural Development Centers; AAAS; NAS; Am. Soc. Plant Biologists (they sponsored the CSREES listening session); commodity groups.
      • However, in general, the farther away from our usual round of colleagues, the better - research may be needed to even know who they are.
      • An issue to be handled sensitively will be competition for funding - we will need to be able to show mutual benefit in serving our ultimate stakeholders.
    • Herb Ohm
      • NSF, AAAS, CGIAR, ASA/CSSA/SSSA, Horticulture Society, Organic Agriculture Organization
    • Steve Baenziger
      • Excellence in Science and Technology: Ron Phillips, Chairperson of Section O of AAAS; President of ASPB, Plant Path, or Ento. Soc. Of America; Arabidopsis or Rice Genome leader
      • Globally Competitive Agriculture: FAO eldership on global plant breeding studies; AVDRC, CIMMYT, ICARDA, etc. Plant Breeding Leaders; Can we find an NGO in this area?; Someone from the grain exporters?
      • Competitiveness, Sustainability and Quality of Life in Rural America: President of Rural Sociology Society; Federal Reserve Bank Chair for the KC or Chicago Bank? Local Rural Development Planners--e.g. someone from Des Moines in state government
      • Safe and Secure Food and Fiber System: Bring in the Food companies; Virgil Smail, ConAgra; Dave Green, ADM; Someone from Cotton Inc.; Brian Walker, Cargill; Forestry and vegetables?
      • Healthy, Well-nourished Population: Could repeat some of the food companies; State government on nutritional programs; Dietician societies, Human and animal nutritionists.
      • Harmony Between Agriculture and the Environment: Chuck Hassebrook, Center for Rural Affairs: could also be used in Quality of Rural Life; Stan Cox: Land Institute; Sierra Club and related environmental groups: local chapters? How about someone from the big fertilizer industries; Pesticide producers (Bayer, BASF, Monsanto, DuPont, etc.)
      • Education and Training of Plant Breeders: Someone from NASLGUC; Someone from Univ Of Iowa: their Dean of Arts and Sciences; Biology department heads from small liberal arts colleges such as Grinnell; Need to embrace our 1890 colleges; Someone from Sigma Xi or AAAS on the education/science literacy
    • David Stelly
      • Domestic: important philanthropic organizations (Rockefeller, McKnight, Noble, Gates); important societies CSSA, USTA; important commodity organizations; key AES and land grant univ. Ag Deans -- regional reps
      • International: representative from Nobel foundation (Peace Award) and representative from World Food Prize -- increase visibility; IAEA; EUCARPIA representatives; other comparable organizations
    • Kay Simmons
      • Clinical researchers or human nutritionists who are developing biomarkers that can guide fruit, vegetable, or whole grain improvement for health benefits. Possibilities include: John Milner, Branch Chief, Nutrition Research, National Cancer Institute, NIH, or Elizabeth Jeffrey, U. Illinois (health benefits of broccoli), or James Joseph, Human Research Center on Aging, Tufts, on Nutritional Modulation of Brain Aging and Cognitive Decline
      • Chefs and Farmers’ Markets groups – Anna McClung, ARS rice breeder, has an innovative collaboration with Carolina chefs and organic growers to develop historical rice cultivars that originally came from Africa for Carolina Gold rice that is featured in regional restaurants
  3. What topics and speakers could we use at the American Society of Agronomy meeting on the theme of 'Training the next generation of plant breeders'?
    • Roy Scott
      • Partnerships or relationships or obligations of private industry and universities for plant breeding education - maybe a top industry CEO who has a breeding background.
    • Marcelo Carena
      • 1- Should cultivar development and release decisions (and decision making) be included in the training of breeders? 2- Should students be exposed to genetically broad based populations? 3- How much management training should be included? Respecting deadlines. 4- How to make winter nursery decisions; 5- The need for funds on long-term germplasm improvement
    • Bill Tracy
      • Natalia de Leon from UW-Madison
    • Karen Moldenhauer
      • P. Stephen Baenziger would be a good speaker. He has given many talks on training the next generation of plant breeders. He has also pulled together a symposium for AAAS which did not make. Check with him to see if it is okay to potentially incorporate these speakers, because he has suggested that we redo the symposium, but they would also be good speakers on a slightly different topic.
      • Dr. Thomas C. Hoegemeyer
        • Tom Hoegemeyer is the director of research for a major regional seed company in the Great Plains who has participated in the rapid changes of how plant breeding programs evaluate inbred lines and hybrids using molecular and greatly improved field techniques. Rapid advances in DNA marker system development and analysis have rendered genotyping relatively cheap and rapid for commercial maize breeding operations. Increased focus is being placed on accurately phenotyping maize inbreds and hybrids, and utilizing the combined phenotypic and genotypic information to increase genetic advance. Increasing maize yields and reducing environmental impacts are key to sustainable development of world food supply, given population increases and global warming.
      • Dr. Theodore M. Crosbie
        • Ted Crosbie leads Plant Breeding for seven crops for Monsanto. The Global Plant Breeding Team consists of 900 researchers in 20 countries around the world. He is one of two Monsanto Distinguished Science Fellows in Monsanto. In 2005, Governor Tom Vilsack appointed Ted as Chief Technology Officer for the State of Iowa to advise the Governor and legislative leadership of the Iowa House and Senate on scientific issues and opportunities in the State. The delivery system for many aspects of crop improvement (genetics, genomics, biotechnology) is seed. Seed companies, national agricultural research programs, and international centers and the United Nations are deeply concerned that there will be insufficient well educated plant breeders in the future to take full advantage and implement the benefits of the genomics revolution. In this presentation, the stark reality of how many plant breeders are needed to sustain agriculture will be presented. In addition, the skills and knowledge required to be a modern plant breeder will be discussed from the perspective of a globally engaged company.
    • Mark Brick
      • A presentation from a large seed company with statistics to show the need to train plant breeders.
      • Someone from Capitol Hill to discuss impending or ongoing legislation to address the issue.
      • Collaborative efforts among Land Grant Universities to enhance training of plant breeders.
    • Tommy Carter
      • Examples of win-win public-private collaboration.
    • Ann Marie Thro
      • A topic on training the next generation, which is not very interesting but highly germane, and difficult, might be the environment of rules and regulations and policies that govern when and how states will or won’t combine budgetary resources and / or award joint degrees; and, examples (if any) of how these have been successfully worked with and/or overcome to create joint programs. There are lots of conditions to be mindful of, and we need to know about them before launching out into new programs, otherwise our dismay will be swift and deep.  Is this soils related? Well, yes. If a soils faculty wants to create a program across states, they’d face exactly the same constraints (and the same encouragement, if any).
    • Herb Ohm
      • The 21st Century Plant Breeder
      • Plant Breeding: Critical contributions to life - sustaining our food supply
      • Phenomics, genomics, high-throughput genotyping in crop improvement
      • University - Industry - Government (USDA, CSREES, NSF) partnerships in education/training of plant breeders
      • International partnerships for educating students in plant breeding
      • Communicating with the public: farmers, seed producers, consumers
  4. What should we call the public arm of PBCC?
    • National Plant Breeding Association, an initiative of the Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee
    • Plant Breeding Association of America, an initiative of the Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee
    • National Plant Breeding Task Force or Initiative, an initiative of the Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee
    • National Plant Breeding Outreach or Education Task Force or Initiative, an initiative of the Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee
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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