June 28, 2017

2016 University of Minnesota Plant Breeding Symposium

2016 University of Minnesota Plant Breeding Symposium
Friday, April 8, 2016
North Star Ballroom-St. Paul Student Center

Program Schedule

7:45 am Registration Opens
8:00 am – 8:30 am Breakfast
8:30 am – 8:50 am Tabare Abadie – DuPont Pioneer


8:50 am – 9:35 am Eric Watkins – University of Minnesota

“The role of undergraduate education in developing plant breeders for the future”

9:35 am – 10:20 am Gary Atlin – The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

“Training plant breeders to deliver higher rates of genetic gain in the developing world: the model must change”

10:20 am – 10:30 am Break
10:30 am – 11:30 pm Student Breakout Sessions
11:30 pm – 12:30 pm Lunch
12:30 pm – 1:15 pm Poster Sessions
1:15 pm – 2:00 pm Fred Bliss – University of California: Davis

“Plant Breeding and Plant Breeders: Staying Relevant in Our Ever-Changing World”

2:00 pm – 2:45 pm Elizabeth Lee – University of Guelph

“What Agriculture Looks Like in My Crystal Ball…”

2:45 pm – 3:00 pm Break
3:00 pm – 4:00 pm Keynote: Bruce Walsh – University of Arizona

“What lessons from the history of quantitative genetics can help us in educating tomorrow’s plant breeders?”


Talk Abstracts

Eric Watkins – The role of undergraduate education in developing plant breeders for the future

Watikins_EricProfessional plant breeders are typically trained in graduate programs at either the M.Sc. or Ph.D. levels. As the need for plant breeders continues to grow, we need to consider how plant breeding education can be effectively integrated into undergraduate curricula. Most large public research universities are well-situated to train undergraduate students in not only the science of plant breeding, but also in related disciplines that can help form a successful, impactful plant breeder.  In this presentation, I will discuss why knowledge from both biological and non-biological disciplines, including social sciences and humanities, is important in this effort. I will also present examples of how I have used digital technologies, such as student media projects and augmented reality, along with community engagement, in undergraduate education.

Gary Atlin – Training plant breeders to deliver higher rates of genetic gain in the developing world: the model must change

Providing smallholder farmers in the developing world with a steady stream of improved varieties is critical to the adaptation of cropping systems to climate change, and to the maintenance of food security in the face of rising populations and a shrinking agricultural land base, particularly in Africa and South Asia.  Currently, rates of genetic gain generated by the public sector breeding programs that serve staple crop growers are usually very low (they are rarely measured), and the  varieties in farmers’ fields are usually over 20 years old (often much older), indicating that breeding and seed systems are failing farmers.  Breeders in the developing (and much of the developed)  world are using obsolete breeding technology and methods that would be easily recognizable to a breeder who arrived in a time machine from the 1960s.  For example, despite the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in crop genomics and a rapid fall in the price of genotyping, almost no use of DNA markers and genomic data is being made in forward breeding.  Very few breeding programs are managed using the integrated databases required to apply such data effectively, and the level of digitization of data collection is low.  Breeders also lack training in the development and use of product profiles, and in the planning and promotion needed to ensure their varieties are disseminated and adopted.  A new training model for plant breeders is needed that recognizes the true nature of the work: product development.  The training model for plant breeding needs to shift away from its current, obsolete paradigm drawn from the education of basic biological scientists to one appropriate for an engineering and design discipline.  Most of what a breeder does is product development based on well understood scientific principles, not genetic analysis, but the training focuses on genetic analysis.  As a result, most breeders finish their training unable to design and optimize, for time and money invested,  the cultivar development pipelines they will need to manage.  If they are hired by a multinational seed company, this is not a problem, because they will be retrained and supported.  If they go to work for the small national programs and regional companies that develop cultivars of staple food crops in Africa, South Asia, or Latin America, they are on their own.  We need to provide them with a graduate education that will equip them to do their jobs.


Fred Bliss – Plant Breeding and Plant Breeders: Staying Relevant in Our Ever-changing World


A plant breeding career often spans several decades from new breeder to retirement. During that time new knowledge, innovations, technology, breeding methods and societal needs drive changes in science and art that shape breeding philosophy and practice.  Some changes are inspired by breeders while others arise unexpectedly from many diverse sources.  An individual’s career path will need a solid educational foundation followed by life-long learning to amass knowledge, experiences and skills required for success and relevance through retirement.  Plant breeding is evolving from largely craft-based to technology-driven and from an individual-centric to a collaborative-sharing profession.  We can influence how breeding students and allied scientists are prepared, ways for practicing breeders to remain current and competitive, and how we contribute meaningfully to our global community. Programs, curricula and courses of study require continual refreshing to provide applicable, cutting edge knowledge, experience and skills to prepare new breeders. Along with high quality graduate studies, there also should be continuing educational opportunities for all levels of breeders and technical support personnel. We can choose a career path to personal success and how we help plant breeding remain relevant and meet expectations of science and society.


Elizabeth Lee – What Agriculture Looks Like in My Crystal Ball…


One of the greatest challenges of the 21st Century will be to devise food systems capable of meeting the rising human demand for food while sustaining healthy ecosystems, populations and economies. To accomplish this as plant breeders, you will need to constantly learn new things, forget outdated things, relearn things that you once knew but forgot, and re-envision what the role of plant breeding is in the agro-ecosystem. By the middle of the 21st Century, agriculture and the environment need to be viewed as one in the same. And we as agriculture researchers need to start leading this paradigm shift. I will talk about the facts that are influencing my thinking. I will share with you my philosophy on learning and education. And I will attempt to reposition plant breeding into agriculture research in the face of climate change. While the future will probably be different from what I envision, it is safe to say that it will be different than it is today. You will need to constantly learn, unlearn and relearn. And you should be prepared for a career of constantly being on learning curves.


Bruce Walsh – What lessons from the history of quantitative genetics can help us in educating tomorrow’s plant breeders?


The history of a field can provide important insights into its future.  This is certainly true in quantitative genetics, which required the merging of statistical methods developed by the early champions of Darwinism for the analysis of continuous with the discrete genetics offered by Mendel.  While now an apparently seamless marriage, there was a bitter debate between these two camps, vestiges of which still persist today.   The issues faced as the field developed in many ways parallel issues in the training of the next generation of plant breeders, who must themselves seamless merge advanced statistic methods, powerful genomics tools, and a deep understanding of the biology of their target species.