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the foundation
of civilization

Plant breeding:
the foundation
of agriculture

Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee

Subcommittee - Excellence in Science and Technology

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This is the report from the subcommittee on a Excellence in Science and Technology. It met as part of the Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee in Des Moines, Iowa on June 16-18, 2008.

This report was prepared by: David Stelly and Craig Yencho

  • New officers
    • David Stelly, Past Chair (TAMU)
    • Craig Yencho, Chair (NCSU)
    • Silvia Cianzio, Chair-Elect (ISU)
    • Joshua Udall, Secretary, (BYU)
  • Executive Summary
  • The Excellence in Science and Technology workgroup had two lively sessions, I (Tuesday afternoon) and II (Wednesday morning), with extensive contributions from vertically diverse groups of about 25 and 18 participants, respectively, including university  administrators, faculty, post-docs and students; USDA-ARS administrators, scientists, private industry leaders and breeders, and a University of Guelph (Canada) faculty member.
    • METRICS & ACCOUNTABILITY: The group felt that metrics were feasible, but judicious use would require some special consideration. It thus generated two lists (see DETAILS), termed here as
      • “Potential Metrics”, and
      • “Potentially Influential Parameters”, i.e., factors that would logically influence performance (program / professional / educational), and thus expectations need to be considered as part of a metric-based evaluation.
      • “White Paper” - A schedule was developed group-wide review, input and finishing the white paper by September 1 (Stelly responsible for schedule-adherence). 
      • “One-pager” - the completion target date was set at Dec. 1 (Yencho responsible for schedule-adherence). Note, that the group felt that multiple Science & Technology “one-pagers” should eventually be developed (e.g., one or more for K-12), but that focus was needed up front on the overall one-pager, after which more specialized versions can be developed.
      • Development of an Implementation Strategy: The group felt that it important begin now, complete follow-through for next meeting (if not sooner, especially given the a national election is approaching quickly). Also, we must explicitly define our “ASK” statement ASAP (amounts and types of funding, accountability). Can/should the ASK statement go into the white paper and one-pager? (Or should the S&T workgroup leave this matter to the overall Exec. Comm.?)
      • A definition of plant breeding that met with resounding approval was “Plant Breeding -- Science and Technology With with a Purpose” . It was considered to be a strong candidate for use as a motto.
  • Break-out Session-1
  • Discussion Topic 1 - Plant Breeding Metrics and Accountability Discussions – What are the appropriate metrics to use to justify plant breeding?
  • Is there an inherent problem with metrics and plant breeding?
    • Most thought no, but it is difficult to use metric standards from other disciplines in PLBR since PLBR is so distinct, different
    • The gestation time of breeding programs, before success can be evident, can affect expectations greatly
    • But, why should plant breeders be viewed any different from other scientists.
  • What are some typical metrics used to Evaluate/Describe a PLBR Program?
    • Potential metrics
    • Varieties, germplasm releases, populations released (e.g. mapping populations)
    • But how do you measure varietal worth? $$ value, acres planted, use as breeding material, number of licenses
    • Publications – quality vs quantity a consideration
      • How to gauge quality – citations, quality indexes, etc.
      • Patents granted
      • Education – Students (numbers, quality, placement in positions of responsibility)
      • Canadians require that scientists (including breeders) list their 5 most significant research contributions
        • Accomplishment should relate to societal importance, but is there a tendency to embellishment?
      • Peer recognition – awards, panel memberships, chairs, evidence of leadership
      • Level of stakeholder contact and stakeholder input.
      • Invited talks
      • Consulting
      • Number of grants – type, duration
      • Teaching and extension activities
      • Student and postdoc placement
  • The group considered that any of a number of factors would likely affect success of breeding programs and these could affect metric choices and expectations:
    • Potentially Influential Parameters:
    • Duration and stage of career, and program
    • Crop generation time and crop species – e.g., annuals vs perennials, tree crops vs veggies, etc.
    • Existing collaborations and resources – how fast one can get a program operational …
    • Number of crops for which the program or breeder is responsible – some have to work with multiple crops, and limits the amount of effort per crop
    • Programmatic resources – how much support is provided
      • Students, technicians, support personnel, etc
      • Funding availability
    • Accessible research infrastructure and location of research
    • Appointment splits % Res:% Ext:% Teaching; service appt?
      • few new hires are going to have a 100% res appt in academia
    • Funding resources – federal, state, local, commodity, etc
    • Paper and grant reviewing
  • Break-out Session Two
  • Discussion Topic 2 – What are the key outputs that we expect to achieve during the next year?
    • White paper completion (targets)
      • Stelly to send e-copy to Excellence in Science (EiS) members on return.
      • S&T breakout group members to review and send in comments to Stelly and Yencho – Due Date Mon. July 7th
      • July 21 – revised draft out for review.
    • One-page white paper completion – Target Date - Dec. 1 (or sooner)
      • Long term, we probably need more than one version, tailored for different target audiences - examples
        • Education – K-12 range
        • Granting agencies – USDA, DOE, NSF, NIH
          • Tie in/partner with other groups to develop – Eg. NIH – Safe and Secure
        • Congress
      • However, short term we need to focus on 1 to 3 key groups – Deans and Directors, Major commodity organizations and stakeholders, Congress, Major funding agencies
  • Need to work on a strategy to implement – Begin now, complete for next meeting
    • What is it exactly that we are asking for?
    • Funding levels needed $$$
    • Accountability standards
    • Type of funding – National Competitive Grant System for Applied Breeding? Support for Core funding, mix of the two, etc. 
    • We really need to figure this out, perhaps it is best left up to Executive Committee?
  • Key thoughts tossed out for white papers –brainstorming session/ random thoughts
    • In the “ask” statement we need to divide support for “core”  or base funding level and “basic or longer-term science-based” funding.
    • We need to describe exactly what is plant breeding?
    • Why is public breeding relevant and needed?
    • Need to make private, public and nonprofit efforts in each realm compatible, and beneficial for each sector.
    • Need to stress importance of educational pipeline for private sector.
    • Challenge in public knowledge and granting.
    • What do we need to tell people?
    • How do we tailor the 1 pagers for “the ask”.
    • Consider using the a medical analogy – public sector as a key pipeline for private industry.
    • Plant breeding does not occur in leaps and bounds, it is gradual in general – this needs to be stressed.
    • We need to highlight outstanding examples of success in plant breeding – e.g. healthy oils, low linoleic beans, doubled haploids, MAS, mutation breeding, etc.
    • Specialty crop breeding - by and large, industry is not addressing this sector (with the exception of a few crops like tomato and cucurbits).  Consider this example…. apples – The US has been flooded by imported apples…Why???? as a serious lack of US apple breeders breeding new apples, New Zealand, which has a vibrant apple breeding program has filled this need.  Other tree fruits have the same thing happening.
    • High correlation between healthy crops and healthy people.
    • Relation of new funding to existing programs.
    • Our new motto??? Plant Breeding  --  Science and Technology with a Purpose
    • Enhance our translational role in science.
  • Executive committee meeting
    • Need to continue Conference calls – Third Thurs of each month, 1 PM EST, USDA-ARS call in number (see emails for number)
    • White papers –we need to keep them moving forward,  need to ID who is contact person, generally chairs, to keep them on track.
      • Science policy arm of CSSA – committed to 2 papers
        • Healthy Populations and Education – 1st two to move forward
    • Key Issues of Discussion
      • How to synthesize 7 WP’s to 1 major topic – Tom Stalker, NCSU, to take care of this.
      • How to get all advocate’s to speak with one voice
      • What about the new Specialty Grants Research Initiative and DOE Biofuels Funding coming down the pike?  Will others point to this and say that applied breeders are finally being addressed? We need to get ready to address this question?
      • Should our advocacy efforts include a position (strategic) on how to make public plant breeding more efficient.
      • In the long run major funding may go to PLBR centers of Excellence at the larger Univs with robust breeding activities, programs and courses.  Is this ok?  What are the ramifications?  How can we sustain smaller programs that are still needed for many of the specialty crops?
      • Plant breeding and plant molecular genetics are distinct yet complementary.
      • We need to stress connectivity, integration, convergence, of the enabling aspects of plant breeding.
    • Subcommittee Responsibilities
      • Minutes of Cmmtt mtgs need to go onto web – Yencho to get to Wehner
      • Notes of metric sections to Linda Pollack and Ann Marie – Yencho to take care of this too.
  • Participating attendees in this workgroup:
    • Beavis, Bill
    • Chiu, Li-Wei
    • Cianzio, Silvia
    • Edwards, Jeremy
    • Gasic, Ksenija
    • Kim, Hyunjung
    • Lee, Elizabeth
    • Maughan, Jeff
    • Mayor, Laura
    • Nagy, Ervin
    • Peiffer, Jason
    • Perez, Paola
    • Robins, Joseph
    • Santra, Dipak
    • Shi, Ainong
    • Singh, Sukhwinder
    • Stelly, David
    • Udall, Joshua
    • Utomo, Herry
    • Wenefrida, Ida
    • Xu, Wenwei
    • Yencho, Craig


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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