Plant Breeding Education
How do we educate another
generation of Plant Breeders?
Public Plant Breeding
Have Trained/Educated almost all current
Number and size of programs is in near-
universal decline—DRIVEN BY FUNDING
Is this the necessary model? Can we
educate plant breeders effectively without
operating public breeding programs?
Can we support breeding programs in
sufficient numbers in MAJOR crops?
State funding—Plant Breeding, university
funding in general being crowded out by
Medicaid, Medicare, K-12 Education
Federal funding—being crowded out by
Defense, Medicare, Medicaid, Social
Financial Collapse/Recession forcing cuts in
state budgets, flat-line Federal budgets
NSF—willing to fund only basic science,
especially if research publishable in
NIH—molecular work general enough to be
basic, or will apply to plants, animals,
Commercial contracts, investments in a few
“Orphan” crops where there is a
WHO we educate
FEWER farm/rural students, more urban
people, often don’t hold agriculture in high
Universities need help recruiting students
at all degree levels.
Commercial companies need help recruiting
students, interns, permanent employees.
NEED to recruit students from biology,
engineering, basic sciences!!!!
Is Plant Breeding Training a
Replacement for PB Education?
Some evidence of proliferation of short
courses—Univ. of California, Wageningen
Tend to attract B.S. level technicians, teach
hands on skills, but seldom higher level
thinking, art with less science.
LOTS of informal training by professionals,
turn technicians into students!
Plant Breeding EDUCATION
Needs to take place in context of
active breeding program!
M.S. and Ph.D. are RESEARCH
We may need to re-think how and
where the research and formal
education take place.
Perhaps NOT necessary to do both in
the University setting!
Disciplines—Most are the same as
40 years ago
Cytogenetics, cell biology
Plant pathology/entomology/weed science
Statistics and Experimental Design
Quantitative Genetics, Population Genetics
Botany, plant & crop physiology
CROP PRODUCTION for urban students
New & Necessary
Re-Connect with Basic Science
Applied Genomics Technologies
Transgene biology/cell culture
Crop Evolution / Molecular Systematics
Intellectual Property Rights, Regulatory
Molecular Plant Breeders?
Intra-University competition for resources
LOTS of talk about “precision” plant
breeding modification via molecular
biology, modification/insertion of genes
Field Experience tends to be lacking among
scientists making most aggressive claims.
We share lots of tools with molecular
biology, but are applied with different
Plant Breeding is an Integration of
Engineering may be most apt model
Regardless how much cutting edge
Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics,
Materials Science is done, we still
need to teach how to integrate these
various disciplines into a useful and
coherent product—roads, bridges,
dams,electronic devices, substances.
Many programs still viable, especially
“minor” crops that aren’t viable for
commercial companies—many forages,
wheat, squash, dry beans, etc.
It isn’t necessary to “train” in the crop you
will be employed to breed. However, it
may require additional information, maybe
offered at other universities, or on the job
Commercial Company as Partner
Universities need to help recruit
bright students to intern as breeding
assistants (longer than a summer!)
Commercial companies may allow
bright assistants partial/full release to
pursue graduate degrees—Research
done at/with company, education
through university—STAN JENSEN
May involve financial support of project
May involve sharing research trials
May involve sharing of data, phenotypic
and marker under secure coded system
Perhaps in corn we will need to work full
cooperation, all research done at/with/by
FEW universities will be able to retain
enough breeders, other professionals
to offer a full range of courses.
Perhaps it is better to have a couple
of choices, have on-line courses
taught by the best people in areas.
Module system of 1 or 2 hours
courses in LOTS of different areas,
rather than traditional courses.
Applied Genomics Techniques
New Statistical Techniques
Partial Least Squares for fitting “too
many variables” models
Whole Genome Selection Techniques
We may need USDA plant breeding
professionals to help with teaching. May be
the “easiest” support to get from the
We may need to “consolidate” schools.
Offer some courses, trade students, faculty
on others. ISU—UN-L vet school program.
With consolidated seed industry, there is
less political clout in most states to get
Results of GEM Survey and Education
of Public Plant Breeders, Use of GEM
Materials & Impact
Researchers were queried about how
GEM Project germplasm or funding
has contributed to their research
objectives, or to the training of the
future scientists that they mentor.
Researchers responded that GEM
germplasm had contributed to their
research objectives in many ways, and in
particular has been used in many graduate
research projects which have been well-
In addition, use of exotic-derived GEM
germplasm with traits not found in maize
of temperate origin enabled Iowa State
University’s Grain Quality Traits Lab
(Charles Hurburgh and colleagues) to
extend their NIRS calibration for maize
starch, oil and protein.
Of particular interest were how the GEM
Specific Cooperative Agreement
researchers leveraged their resources to
provide for germplasm development, basic
and applied research, and the number of
graduate and undergraduate students that
have been involved.
13 Ph.D. programs completed (seven
working directly in plant breeding or
closely allied science; two of these are
now plant breeding and genetics faculty)
4 Ph.D. programs in progress
1 post-doctoral program completed
8 M.S. programs completed (five working
directly in plant breeding or closely allied
science; three pursuing advanced degrees
in plant breeding)
3 M.S. programs in progress