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the foundation
of civilization

Plant breeding:
the foundation
of agriculture

Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee

Subcommittee - Excellence in Science and Technology

(return to PBCC main page)

This is the report from the subcommittee on Excellence in Science and Technology. It met as part of the Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee in Cary, North Carolina on February 7-9, 2007.

This report was prepared by:

  • Craig Yencho, secretary
  • Anna McClung
  • Andrea Cardinal
  • Jack Staub
  • David Stelly, chair

The group commenced its efforts by dividing into two subgroups and independently discussing the relevance of plant breeding to US science and technology using the key discussion points provided by the organizers. Steve Baenziger and Jim Coors? led the two subgroups, ushering forward and moderating the respective discussions. Each subgroup was served by 3 volunteers, a recorder (R) and two delegates (D), who worked as a team to summarize first-day discussions, and then presented them at the outset of the 2 nd day, i.e., to fuse subgroup-specific ideas into a common report, and then to present the unified report to the Workshop attendee gathering.

Discussions in both groups independently established deep-seated convictions that plant breeding is vital to both advancement and utilization of US science and technology, and that US Plant Breeding efforts need better support if they are to continue to contribute to the advancement of overall US science and technology. Subsequent discussions took aim at highlighting supporting philosophical themes, and their exemplification. Key points were that

  • Goal
    • Excellence in Science and Technology
  • Plant breeding is a uniquely multidisciplinary, integrative science, through which diverse technologies and knowledge are translated into biological products and knowledge that impact science, agriculture and society at multiple levels.
    • Breeding requires deep insight into biological, genetic and breeding behavior each species, including its biology, genetics, germplasm, domesticated culture, variability to abiotic and biotic challenges, biology and genetics of symbionts and pathogens, their uses, and also the markets and industries into which they fit. Thus, each breeding program typically involves multiple scientific and technological elements, and thus often multiple laboratories. (for examples or evidence -- cite data from cumulative national report or other sources about the numbers/types of laboratories typically involved in team-based breeding?)
  • Plant breeding is a visionary science that is providing solutions today and will provide solutions tomorrow.
    • Plant breeding is an essential national investment. An improved economy and exports, especially in our vital agricultural sectors, result from strong plant breeding efforts. The scientific revelations and genetic advances of today in plant breeding are often based on experiments conducted years ago. Breeding requires multiple plant generations, which range from weeks to years. Thus, some aspects of breeding require foresight that is years and even decades ahead. The experiments set in motion today and tomorrow will provide unique scientific revelations and technological innovations in the future that are essential to US success.
    • Plant breeding creates novel genetic resources, reveals new traits, stimulates discoveries that drive other areas of research, and delivers new research tools. (e.g. RILs, mapping popns, novel traits).
    • Because plant breeding is multidisciplinary, analytical and team-oriented, scientists trained in plant breeding are capable of identifying, analyzing and solving complex needs that are crucial to our future. Future societal issues that can benefit greatly from a concerted investment in plant breeding include agricultural sustainability, global warming via the development of biofuels and bio-based products, water management, globalization, poverty and hunger, etc.)
  • US science relies on a continuous flow of new ideas, knowledge, products and capable scientists. The science of plant breeding provides unique contributions in each of these areas.
    • Society requires an ample supply of well-trained scientists, including plant breeders. The competitiveness of US science depends on a continuous supply of innovative, well-educated, team-oriented plant breeders that can address complex research problems, such as global warming, renewable energy, sustainability, diminishing per capita natural resources, and improved human health. The challenge of providing sufficient numbers of plants is exacerbated by the steeply diminished numbers of recent graduates.
    • [support this item with facts delivered in the plenary talk about excellence in science and technology?), i.e., the # graduates now is 1/2 what it was 6-7 years ago???)
    • We discussed the idea of promoting the concept of a local and/or national food supply becoming an important food security issue with impacts locally and nationally. We simply cannot afford, as a nation, to loose our ability to feed ourselves. Plant breeding can assist in this cause and it has national security implications.
  • Society requires new knowledge and new products. Plant breeding has created and will continue to produce numerous advances with far-reaching benefits to society.
  • Past examples of plant breeding impacts that can be used to create a compelling case for sustained efforts in plant breeding include:
    • Green Revolution
      • The “Green Revolution” demonstrated on a global scale the broad applicability of principles established by breeding, i.e. that genotypes bred for high yield and semi-dwarfism could be used to significantly enhance productivity, when supplied with ample nutrients, to feed the world and alleviate hunger and malnutrition.
    • Heterosis
      • Early plant breeding experiments demonstrated fundamental principles, such as the feasibility of inbreeding naturally allogamous species, inbreeding depression, and hybrid heterosis. These principles have been extended to numerous other organisms with extensive ramifications on breeding, production, health, economy and other sciences, including medicine. For example, following the results in maize by GH Shull at the Carnegie Experimental Station, CC Little, also at Carnegie, inbred mice, demonstrated genetic components to cancer and established the Jackson Laboratory. In plants, the efforts to facilitate and diversify hybrid production systems continue in numerous crops. Interests in methods of producing inbreds and hybrids have stimulated a continuous stream of scientific discoveries, such as cytoplasmic and cytoplasmic-nuclear systems, haploid and doubled-haploid extraction systems, mitochondria, differences in expression (e.g., gametophytic versus sporophytic), genetic control, molecular interactions, and organelle-nuclear cross-talk and evolutionary genetic exchange. The occurrence of heterosis, continues to drive scientific inquiry as to its basis, exemplified, for example by hypotheses regarding the impact of helitron-induced deletions in maize on heterozygosity, and thus breeding behavior. (cite work, e.g., Dupont’s).
    • Alien introgression
      • Wide-cross hybridization and alien germplasm introgression have been and continue to be undertaken for breeding research purposes in most crops with significant breeding efforts. The phenotypic extremes and unexpected types of trait variation have led to the revelation of numerous genomic, cytogenetic, genetic, and/or epigenetic phenomena, as well as the development of new and improved plant varieties produced on millions of acres of farmland around the globe. Moreover, the elevated rates of molecular polymorphism associated with wide hybridization rendering the trait variation highly amenable to contemporary methods of marker-assisted trait dissection. (BEST EXAMPLES TO CITE? New cytoplasmic-nuclear male sterility systems (e.g., maize, sorghum, numerous others). Digenic Muller-Dobzhansky systems (many species, especially polyploids). Meiotic drive systems; “cuckoo” chromosomes; induction of chromosome fragmentation (e.g., wheat by Endo)… physical mapping systems (wheat deletion lines); localization of apomixis-determining genes (several examples, e.g., Pennisetum; disease resistance genes… cloning them; ….).
    • Transgenic technology
      • According to ISAAA ( the global area of biotech crops continued to climb for the tenth consecutive year at a sustained double-digit growth rate of 13%, or 12 million hectares (30 million acres), reaching 102 million hectares (252 million acres). This is a historical landmark in that it is the first time that more than 100 million hectares of biotech crops worldwide have been grown with the number of countries planting biotech crops increasing to 22. Biotech soybeans continue to be the principal biotech crop in 2006, occupying 58.6 million hectares (57% of global biotech area), followed by maize (25.2 million hectares at 25%), cotton (13.4 million hectares at 13%) and canola (4.8 million hectares at 5% of global biotech crop area). This trend will undoubtedly continue in the future as new biotech crops come online.
    • Marker-assisted breeding
      • need examples
  • Present and future examples of plant breeding impacts that can be used to create a compelling case for sustained efforts in plant breeding include:
    • Creating, identifying and harnessing genetic variation to enhance oil profiles of oil seed crops.
    • Creating and identifying variation to enhance nutritional profiles, and nutriceutical and medicinal properties of food crops
    • Creating and identifying variation to enhance production of biofuels and additional bio-based products from starchy and oil seed crops.
    • Creating and identifying variation for enhanced performance of crops in sustainable production systems
    • Plant breeders have cultivated numerous public and private partners over the years to champion their causes. These include:
      • End users: farmers, growers, landscapers, ornamental vendors, lumber companies and mills, consumers, processors, germplasm system, and emerging end-users, and relevant commercial enterprises that use plant-based products.
      • Funding sources: NIH, NSF, USDA, foundations, etc
      • Academic and education communities – elementary, secondary, undergraduate, graduate
      • Government agencies: NASA, EPA, DOE, Homeland security,
      • Relevant NGOs and Governmental agencies focused on sustainable development,
      • Relevant scientific societies: ASHS, PAA, ACS, SEE vol, Med. Sci. Soc.
      • International Plant Breeding Society and private funding agencies.
      • Allied academic disciplines (eg. Plant pathology, entomology, soil and weed science, etc)
      • Also:
        • Pharmaceutical companies
        • Cosmetic companies
        • University/expt stns/
        • Energy companies
        • National research Council
        • Media - ag research
    • However, we also recognized (and most agreed) that plant breeders need to do a better job of reaching out and even identifying new partners to further our cause.
  • Strategies and Actions for 6 months
    • Coordination
      • Establish a Coordination committee and sub-committee – elected at meeting
      • Write report from this sub-group, including priority needs (for granting agencies)
        • Draft within 3 mo,
        • Final with 6 mo – David Stelly and Andrea Cardinal
      • Devise a “brand” name for the plant breeding group – develop and suggest to main committee – “Changing plants for a changing world” – Craig Yencho, Surinder Gulia, F. Bliss
      • (Decision on location and time for next meeting one year from now – Central Comm..)
    • Communication
      • Develop a reframed vocabulary that will be used in final report; align the terminology with goals -- A. Iezzoni, Roy Scott, H. Ohm
        • Include a definition of plant breeding
        • Consider developing a thesaurus vs a dictionary
        • Develop a set of terms that can be used by policy makers to stress the important role of plant breeders in meeting national goals/issues
        • Communicate with logo group
      • Website
        • Meeting summary – elected sub-comm
        • Stock set of slides – power point - examples of excellence (e.g., seedless grapes, green revolution, etc – existing presentations) - A McClung
        • Blueprint for sustained excellence, from mtg summary - D. Stelly, elected officers
        • Data -- why we need plant breeding – statistics on education, programs, grad students, summarized from existing studies - N. de Leon
        • Modify existing website - Todd Wehner
        • Establish mechanism for long term curation of website
      • Public relations
        • Presentations about this group at ASTA, AOSCA, Natl Council Comm Plant Breeders, Amer. Phytopath Soc., Plant and Animal Genome - main committee, liaisons
      • Post breeding courses on the web (links from central plant breeding website to local web pages) - B. Walsh
      • Introduce ourselves to program officers of granting agencies, and communicate the opportunities for breeders to review grant proposals - B. Walsh
  • Strategies and Actions for 2 years
    • Assessment and accountability
      • Develop a means for assessing accountability - sub comm. to be appointed
    • Communication
      • Press releases (link with PR) - central comm. And liaisons
      • Short videos - youtube, myspace, google - sub comm. will identify those to do videos
      • Build websites
        • Central for plant breeding (this group) - Todd Wehner
        • Local levels
      • Wikipedia – elected sub comm.
    • Education: Transfer to education comm. - this group's liaison B. Walsh
      • Improve opportunities for undergraduate research experience
      • Secure more funding for graduate education
      • Extension, outreach, continuing education, educate the educators
      • Develop “skill” sheets
      • Delphi studies – web-based
      • Grants for establishing K-12 education programs, simple lessons for teachers about plants, genetics, breeding
    • Positioning and Influence
      • Lobby Congress - group made up of industry, grower, university - representative - central comm
      • Bridges to other professional societies/disciplines – comm.
      • Bridges to NGO - W. Goldstein
      • Develop a reframed vocabulary that all breeders can use - Iezzoni
      • Come up with priority needs that could be pitched to granting agencies - central comm
      • Contact John DeGraf (PBS - Seattle) compelling stories of plant breeders (as example) - central comm
  • Strategies and Actions for 5 years
    • Communication
      • Videogame, web based educational tools
      • Get funding to be able to present to TV - (60 minutes, educational programs, Discovery channel, Food channel, etc) importance and excellence in science of plant breeding
    • Education
      • Teach undergraduate biology classes or lectures
      • More cross-linked classes
      • Participatory breeding (i.e. specialty crops) - farmers, seed savers, small seed companies - can help in the development and commercialization
    • Positioning and Influence
      • Develop means for assessment and provide accountability, accreditation
      • Create and strengthen working relationships with competitive granting agencies, including NSF and DOE.
      • Establish an International Plant Breeding Society
  • Participating attendees in this workgroup:
    • J. Barb
    • P. Arelli
    • P. Araes
    • S. Baenziger (G1)
    • F. Bliss (R-G1)
    • J. Coors (G2)
    • A. Cardinal (D)
    • N.. de Leon
    • M. Friedrichs
    • C. Franks
    • S. Flint – Garcia
    • W. Goldstein
    • M. Goodman
    • S. Gulia
    • G. Graham
    • A. Iezzoni
    • F. Kolb
    • A. McClung (R-G1)
    • S. McKeand
    • R. Lobato-Ortiz
    • P. Murphy
    • L. Nass
    • H. Ohm
    • T. Ranney
    • J. Robbins
    • R. Scott
    • E. Shipe
    • K. Simmons
    • J. Staub (D)
    • D. Stelly (D)
    • B. Thornton
    • B. Walsh
    • J. Yang
    • G.C. Yencho (D)


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Department of Horticultural ScienceBox 7609North Carolina State UniversityRaleigh, NC 27695-7609(919) 515-7416

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