Plant breeders balance shared innovation, revenue

Have you thanked a crop breeder today? Public-sector plant breeders (for example, at public universities) have developed crops for better productivity. As a result, more food is available to feed a growing population.

A group of people prepare different varieties of sweet corn near a field for a taste test..

Sweet corn breeder William Tracy (second from left) and Julie Dawson (third from left), both faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, prepare a sweet corn taste test with summer field crew students. One of the goals of this particular breeding project is to develop ‘culinary corn’ with more intense corn flavor. Photo credit Joan Fischer / UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

This research and innovation requires funding. But funding—and revenue from the crops developed—is increasingly hard to obtain.

In response, a group of plant breeders met in 2016 to discuss best practices. Julie Dawson, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is lead author of a recent paper summarizing their recommendations.

Intellectual property rights can protect crop varieties. And licensing can provide revenue to support further developments. But certain types of intellectual property rights can restrict plant breeders from sharing plant materials. That can limit innovation across the board.

Finding a balance between these needs is tricky. It’s also important: “Crop breeding is critical for the future of agriculture,” says Dawson. “Plant breeding programs benefit farmers everywhere. They also benefit anyone who eats.”

The group has three recommendations. They suggest developing best practices for revenue sharing. They advocate for increased funding for public programs. They also suggest establishing professional standards for sharing plant breeding materials.

Historically, many crop varieties were released to the public with almost no restrictions. “But budgets are getting tighter,” says Dawson. “Grant funding is also becoming more competitive. Public sector plant breeders need to seek other sources of revenue.”

Royalties generated by licensing new crop varieties have been one revenue stream. These royalties are usually shared between universities and their plant breeding programs. But the group finds that the distribution isn’t always equitable.

“Cultivar development can be considered a type of university-sponsored start-up,” Dawson says. “In order to continue the breeding programs a reasonable amount of revenue needs to be returned to those programs. Unfortunately, the workgroup found this is not always the case.”

Two researchers hold carrots, including tops, in the field

Carrot Breeder Philipp Simon (USDA-ARS, Madison WI) and graduate student Charlene Grahn explain their selection for stronger and more vigorous tops to improve carrot competition with weeds and ease of mechanical harvest. This complex trait is important for both conventional and organic production. Photo credit Micaela Colley / Organic Seed Alliance.

Overall funding for public plant breeding programs also needs to increase, according to the group. Public breeding programs train the next generation of researchers and plant breeders. They can also focus on low-return, high-value crops that are less attractive to the private sector.

For example, cover crops may have relatively low monetary returns. That can reduce interest from the private sector. But they have high social or environmental value, such as improving soil quality or reducing erosion.

“Public programs don’t have to be immediately profitable, unlike in the private sector,” says Dawson. “The public sector is able to respond to regional and long-term needs of U.S. agriculture,” says Dawson. “It can do so in ways that are more difficult for private companies that need to turn a profit every year.”

The group also advocates for uniform standards for sharing breeding materials. They recommend using the Wheat Workers’ Code of Ethics as a template. Crop breeders could then work with their universities to better define intellectual property rights and sharable resources.

“Tech transfer offices are usually more familiar with medical or engineering innovations,” says Dawson. “Plant breeders need existing plant material to continue innovating. Restrictive intellectual property rights can shut off this source of research materials. That essentially turns each breeding program into a silo and hinders innovation.”

Read more about the group’s recommendations in Crop Science. Funding for the conference was provided by a conference grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (USDA-NIFA-AFRI 2017-67013-25922) and SeedMatters.

Article originally published at: https://www.agronomy.org/science-news/plant-breeders-balance-shared-innovation-revenue

 

Yandell awarded Round 4 Funding for Data Science Hub

This project will launch a campus-wide Data Science Hub (DSHub), paving the way for an eventual Data Science Institute. The​ ​goal​ ​of​ ​DSHub​ ​is​ ​to​ ​coordinate​ ​and​ ​execute​ ​a​ ​campus-wide​ ​data​ ​science​ ​strategy​ ​that​ ​fills​ ​critical​ ​gaps​ ​and supports​ ​data​ ​science​ ​growth​ ​and​ ​cross-fertilization.​

In the last decade, data science has gone from the “big data” fad to a mission-critical enterprise need. DSHub will increase visibility of UW–Madison as a major data science destination, provide unified leadership to advance campus expertise in data science, enable big funding opportunities, foster researcher training in data science, coordinate and strategize development of educational tools for data science degree programs, support domain scientists doing data science, foster cross-disciplinary methodological research in data science, and develop data science outreach to Wisconsin.

Seventeen  innovative projects ranging from personalizing diabetes prevention and treatment, to transforming wood into a renewable electronic material, to improving outcomes for incarcerated parents and their children, to fusion energy research that integrates optimized plasma confinement, and establishing a UWLandLab and a forecast-based flood and health disaster preparedness system, have been chosen to join the UW2020: WARF Discovery Initiative cohort.

The projects were reviewed by faculty from across the university, ultimately involving 102 reviewers. Funded projects include 125 faculty and academic staff investigators from 10 schools and colleges. The UW2020 Council, a group of faculty from all divisions of the university, evaluated the merits of each project based on the reviews and their potential for making significant contributions to their fields.

Project Description and Participants

 

What color is your carrot?

MADISON — Sevie Kenyon: Shelby, carrots are not just orange anymore, what colors are there?

Shelby Ellison: You can find carrots in red, yellow, you can have some purple varieties and actually carrots, before they were domesticated, were white.

Click here to listen to the podcast. 

Sevie Kenyon: What would the difference be between one color and another?

Shelby Ellison: So typically, the color of carrot that you’re eating, it directly corresponds with the nutritional value or the nutritional compound found in that carrot. For instance, an orange carrot would be high in alpha and beta-carotene. A yellow carrot would be high in lutein and xanthophyll. A red carrot would be high in lycopene. Purple carrots have high levels of anthocyanins which are antioxidants and white carrots, while they don’t really confer much nutritional benefit, they’re very high in fiber.

Sevie Kenyon: Shelby, where are people going to encounter carrots other than orange carrots?

Shelby Ellison: Right now, one of the best places you can go to find a diversity of carrot colors is your local farmer’s market. You can also get them through community-supported agriculture. They’re growing many different varieties of carrots and some of the co-ops and smaller seed companies will sell heirloom varieties of different carrot colors.

Sevie Kenyon: For the home grower, is there anything they need to know about the different carrot varieties?

Shelby Ellison: Just a lot of them, because they’re more of the heirloom varieties, they’re not going to have the same uniformity that you’d find in a lot of the orange cultivars.

Sevie Kenyon: Shelby, can you tell us a little bit about what you’re looking for in your work?

Shelby Ellison: Because the colors do correspond with the nutritional content, I’m interested in looking at the genetics controlling each of these compounds. So understanding what gene or genes control beta-carotene accumulation in an orange carrot, or what controls lycopene accumulation in a red carrot and then through understanding the genetics of those traits you can make new improved varieties with improved nutritional quality.

Sevie Kenyon: Shelby, have we seen improved varieties on the market yet?

Shelby Ellison: There are improvements being constantly made through traditional breeding. There was a big change in the last twenty years or so where we started increasing the amount of beta carotene but now we are seeing if you’re adding the anthocyanins or the purple compounds into the orange varieties, you’re not only getting the benefit of the alpha and beta carotene in the orange carrot but you’re improving the antioxidants

Sevie Kenyon: Shelby, look into your crystal ball, what do you see carrots looking like 5, 10, 20 years from now?

Shelby Ellison: We’re probably going to be seeing a lot more colors in the grocery stores. Just how people really like the idea of having the baby carrots, I think we’ll see more of the different colors in the baby carrot packages.

Sevie Kenyon: We’ve been visiting with Shelby Ellison, Department of Horticulture, University of Wisconsin Madison and the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and I’m Sevie Kenyon.

Harvesting Ideas and Fruit with Amaya Atucha

In a lab filled with test tubes and microscopes the last thing one may expect to see are grape seeds and cranberry vines. However, this is necessary as Amaya Atucha and her team are studying the cold hardiness of fruit crops to better understand fruit crop physiology and production. Atucha serves in three main roles: an assistant professor in the department of Horticulture, a Fruit Crop Specialist for UW-Extension, and the Gottschalk Chair for cranberry research. Needless to say Atucha is well-versed in the field of fruit crop production, helping to improve the production practices of fruit crops across the state of Wisconsin.

How does the Wisconsin Idea animate your work? As a state specialist with UW Extension my work is basically the implementation of the Wisconsin Idea, in that I conduct research and interpret research from other scholars to help fruit growers across the state. Being part of extension has given me the opportunity to experience how the university can influence peoples live beyond what we see happening on campus, and that is very inspiring and gratifying at the same time.

How has your research and teaching path changed the way you think about Wisconsin and the world? My interaction with colleagues and scientists around the world has given me a broader perspective of the challenges and advantages others face in their work. As an international scholar, moving to Wisconsin has allowed me to experience a completely different culture, and has definitely changed my vision on the role universities can play in their local communities.

One of Amaya's research assistants uses a microscope and camera attached to the microscope to observe the cranberry plantHow does your research tell a larger story about Wisconsin and the world? My research program focuses on fruit crop physiology and production of deciduous fruit crops; with cranberries being one of the main fruit crops I study. Wisconsin is the top producer of cranberries in the world, and UW-Madison is the place where most of the research on this fruit crop takes place. UW-Madison has an impressive group of researchers working on all aspects of cranberry production and we are definitely the main source of information on this crop worldwide.

Is there a fact about cranberries that tends to amuse or surprise people? Yes, that cranberries do not grow in water! Most people associate cranberry production with the images they see on the television, where the growers are harvesting the berries from a pool full of water, so people think that’s the way they grow. Cranberry beds, which are the production unit in a cranberry marsh, are flooded to harvest the fruit because it makes it easier to collect all the berries, but once the harvest is done the beds are drained.

What do you love about the University of Wisconsin-Madison? There are so many possibilities to connect and collaborate with great scientists and faculty from other disciplines around campus. To be part of a diverse community of scholars stimulate you to create innovative approaches to complex problems.

What or who inspires you? My amazing female colleagues who have successful careers and family lives.

Amaya opens small containers that contain frozen grape seeds

What has been one of your favorite courses to teach? I have a very limited teaching appointment; I teach Fruit Crop Production every other spring semester. I really enjoy teaching this class as it has an important field component where students can interact with fruit growers in the state and learn about the socioeconomic implication fruit production has in the state of Wisconsin.

What are three books that have influenced you? Women Who Run With Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes; The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben; When Breath Becomes Airby Paul Kalanithi

Atucha earned her B.S. in horticulture from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (Chile) and her Ph.D. in horticulture from Cornell University. She also participated in the 2015 Wisconsin Idea Seminar and served as a context expert and collaborator for the 2017 Wisconsin Idea Seminar.

This article first appeared in https://wiseminar.wisc.edu/harvesting-ideas-and-fruit-with-amaya-atucha/

Jeff Endelman Recognized with ARS Award

From left to right:
Jeff Endelman (Horticulture) – Research Award
Jeff Booth (Arlington ARS) – ARS Staff Award
Mike Peters (ARS Director)
Margaret Hoffman (Risk Management) – Service Award
Debbie Beich (Risk Management) – Service Award

Jeff Endelman received the Research Award at this year’s Agricultural Research Stations annual Recognition Awards Reception and Dinner.  Other winners included Debbie Beich, Margaret Hoffman and Jeff Booth.

Back to Farming Basics in Guatemala

When Claudia Calderón touched down in the fertile highlands of western Guatemala, she was stepping into a sociological experiment already afoot.

What brought her to the verdant country in Central America in 2016 was a collaborative study conducted alongside her peers from Universidad de San Carlos in Guatemala. The group wanted to determine how two different types of small-holder farms (less than about 2.5 acres) perform in two key areas of sustainability — food security and climatic resilience.

The study compares semiconventional farms (those that use agrochemicals like pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers and grow a comparatively limited array of crops) and agroecology-adopting farms, which largely eschew modern pesticides for organic alternatives and are characterized by a sense of self-reliance, a concern for community well-being, a deeply rooted land ethic, and a tightly knit “solidarity economy” where food production and exchange occur for reasons beyond capital accumulation.

“They’re really focusing on the well-being of their families, of their communities,” says Calderón, an assistant faculty associate in the Department of Horticulture. “And not just the individual profit, but also the community profit.”

The first thrust of the study — food security — is a prominent issue in Guatemala. Large parts of the country lack the proper infrastructure to transport excess goods to market in time, and most rural households need to buy more food than they can produce. Combine this shortage with high levels of poverty, and malnutrition follows.

The group also investigated the agroecological method’s adoption and resilience to climate change. Agroecological farmers tend to grow a greater diversity of crops, including maize, bean, brassicas, leafy greens, potatoes, carrots, and fruits. This allows them to bounce back even if one crop is devastated by drought or rain. They also utilize terraces, contour planting, and live fences to mitigate the effects that washouts can have on their steep hillside plots.

“The whole world is talking about climate change, but particular regions of the world are especially vulnerable to the effects,” Calderón says.

Both agroecological and semiconventional agricultural methods are not without their challenges. Political will is fragmented. Property rights are murky or altogether absent. Extractive industries take advantage of this, hoping to ply the ground for valuable minerals in the soil.

But Calderón is intrigued by the symbiotic relationship between Guatemalan small-scale farmers and their land. She notes that women have become more involved in decisions about crop management. The takeaway? A set of farming practices aimed at optimizing yields, rather than maximizing them, may hold promise for the future of farming in Guatemala.

“What consequences are coming from particular ways of doing agriculture?” says Calderón. “We need to see the whole picture and recognize the role that small-holder farmers play for food security around the world.”

This article was originally published in the Fall 2017 issue of Grow magazine.

Storytelling Through Public Gardens

The Friends of Allen Centennial Garden present their third annual spring horticulture symposium, a full day of exceptional lectures by four leading industry experts in public gardens. This year focuses on the art and the science of storytelling through public gardens and will take place on April 14 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Mendota Room of the Dejope Residence Hall at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

There will be four distinguished speakers including Peter Hatch, Emeritus Director of Gardens and Grounds at Monticello, estate of Thomas Jefferson. Monticello’s 1,000-footlong terraced vegetable garden became an experimental laboratory, an Ellis Island of new and unusual vegetable novelties from around the globe. This garden resulted in a revolutionary cuisine in the kitchen at Monticello. Restored in 1984, the garden—and Thomas Jefferson’s legacy—continue to inspire the farm to table movement today.

“Peter is a dynamic speaker, bringing history to life through his horticultural stories. The legacy of Thomas Jefferson influences gardens to this day, including the popular farm-to-table movement,” says Ben Futa, Allen Centennial Garden Executive Director.

Other speakers are Shari Edleson (Penn State Arboretum), Ian Simpkins (Vizcaya) and Jeff Downing (Mt. Cuba Center). Each will tell a unique horticultural story from their garden with a focus on their own communities’ natural and cultural commonwealth.

“We are thrilled to welcome this stellar line-up of experts. Each understands the importance of recognizing and integrating the “culture” in horticulture, connecting people to plants and one another,” Futa says.

New this year, symposium participants have the opportunity to interact with the speakers through an evening at One Alumni Place, adjacent to Alumni Park on Friday, April 13 from 4 to 6 p.m. Hosted in partnership with the Wisconsin Alumni Association (WAA), participants will learn about the personal and professional evolution of each speaker. Tickets to this preview experience are free with purchase of a ticket to the main event on Saturday, April 14. Tickets to the preview must be claimed in advance; tickets are limited. Visit www.supportuw.org for more information on preview tickets.

Sponsors of the event include Avant Gardening and Landscaping, Madison Area Master Gardeners, Madison Block and Stone, Purple Cow Organics, Madison Trust for Historic Preservation, Mendota Lake House and Landscape Forms.

Tickets for the symposium go on sale January 15 to Friends of Allen Centennial Garden (FACG) members and January 21 for Madison Area Master Gardeners members. Tickets open to the general public on Feb. 1. Registration is $110 and will be accepted until March 27. Register here: horticulturalsymposium.eventbrite.com. FACG members and UW–Madison students receive a reduced rate.

For more information on the HortiCULTURAL Landscapes Symposium, contact Ben Futa, Executive Director of the Allen Centennial Garden at bfuta@wisc.edu.

Story by Kaitlin McIntosh originally published in ecals

Potato Specimens Transferred to Wisconsin State Herbarium

When David Spooner’s elementary school teacher assigned the class to collect leaves, she didn’t tell the students the names of the trees. That didn’t sit well with the fourth-grader.

So Spooner went and found the names himself.

He’s been finding names ever since — whether of sunflowers, or potatoes, or carrots. As a U.S. Department of Agriculture taxonomist in the horticulture department at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Spooner is charged with traveling the world to gather plant specimens that could be useful to plant breeders and then carefully organizing the plants by their relatedness, providing order to tangled family trees.

Herbarium samples of pressed potato plants prepared for transfer from the potato genebank in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, to the Wisconsin State Herbarium on the UW–Madison campus. Photo: Ken Cameron.

At the end of October, Spooner transferred a large collection of potato specimens in the form of pressed plants that he and others collected around the Americas from the U.S. Potato Genebank in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, to the Wisconsin State Herbarium housed in Birge Hall on the UW–Madison campus. In the coming years, Spooner will wind down his tenure on campus by re-classifying the specimens according to his most recent catalog of potato species. The donation is a significant boon for the 1.3 million-specimen herbarium on campus.

“What makes the herbarium samples valuable is that they cover the majority of the potato species diversity,” says Spooner, who arranged the transfer of the samples from federal to state property.

For decades, Spooner’s specialty has been the potato family. Spooner’s search for samples of wild and domesticated potato specimens has taken him from the southwestern United States down through Central America to Chile. In recent years, as he has been reassigned by the USDA to focus on carrots, he’s traveled to the western Mediterranean, including Tunisia, Spain and Morocco. The seeds he collects and stores are known as germplasm, and are invaluable to plant breeders.

“The purpose of the germplasm collections is to be useful breeding stock to improve disease resistance or agronomic traits like productivity and color,” says Spooner.

But Spooner isn’t a breeder. His passion is deciphering how closely related plant species are separated from and related to one another. To do that, Spooner has to reevaluate the list of different species handed down to him from earlier potato experts.  In a trilogy of monographs, which are exhaustive accounts of a family of plants, Spooner has whittled down the accepted number of different potato species from 235 to 111.

This major reordering of an important crop family was based on his access to new types of data that his predecessors didn’t have. While he relies on increasingly large troves of genomic data, Spooner still turns to the plant taxonomist’s trusted source: morphology. The shape, size and organization of different plant parts not only help tease apart different species, but are also crucial to categorizing real plants — DNA just doesn’t jump out from a pressed plant sample.

“I’ve gone through my career looking at both morphology and DNA. And in both of these datasets, things keep falling together. So I haven’t been able to separate previously distinct species reliably,” Spooner says of his work to pare down the number of potato species. “The early taxonomists didn’t have access to the mountain of resources that I’ve had.”

Spooner attributes a lot of his productivity to the people and resources of the university.

“We’ve got some of the best people in the world here. It’s a great place to work, because of the infrastructure: libraries, field facilities, the Biotechnology Center, the intellectual capital. It makes this place unbelievable,” he says.

As he’s increased his focus on carrots, Spooner has collaborated with UW–Madison horticulture professor and fellow USDA scientist Phil Simon. Simon’s group recently sequenced the carrot genome, providing Spooner with a baseline of data to help him organize carrots the way he has potatoes.

Ken Cameron, the director of the Wisconsin State Herbarium, says that the potato specimens Spooner brought to campus emphasize the value of wild relatives in efforts to improve our most important crops.

“There is a growing concern for loss of diversity in our food crops, and a renewed interest by citizens in growing heirloom vegetable varieties,” says Cameron. “These priceless museum specimens are a reminder that such diversity ultimately stems from wild plant species that are even more variable and vulnerable than their domesticated descendants.”

This article was originally published on the UW–Madison News website.

2017 AAS Winner Started at UW Horticulture

The pepper variety named  Aji Rico F1 has been selected as a 2017 All-America Selections (AAS) Winner.

Bred by PanAmerican Seed (Ball), the variety originated in the lab of Jim Nienhuis, Professor in the Department of Horticulture.

Aji Rico is the first of its kind: a hybrid hot pepper from the Capsicum baccatum species that matures early for short-season production or early summer enjoyment. The large plant produces many thin-walled, crunchy fruits which have a narrow conical shape. Fruit matures from green to red and can be eaten at any stage. “Ají” is the term for chili in South America. These fruits have a refreshing citrus flavor and warm heat level, perfect for eating fresh or cooking into salsas or hot sauces. Simply incorporate the desired number of seeds from the pepper to add some heat. Aji also dries well for a flavorful homemade flavorful “paprika.”

All-America Selections is the oldest independent testing organization of flower and edible varieties in North America. AAS Selections have been tested for garden performance by a panel of expert judges. Varieties that perform best over all of North America become AAS National Winners.

2018 Study Abroad Program in Guatemala

UW Community-Based Learning and Sustainable Food Systems in Guatemala offers academics in the areas of Horticulture, Sociology, Environmental Studies, and more. Gain an in-depth understanding of different food systems on a local and global scale.
Develop cultural competency by participating in a community-based project, addressing a community-identified need. Explore the indigenous cultures of Guatemala by interacting with the residents of San Marcos La Laguna.
PROGRAM DETAILS:
• Earn 2 credits of Horticulture 375 or 2 credits of Nutritional Sciences 421.
• Contrast farming and consumer practices in Wisconsin and in Guatemala.
• Contribute to communities locally and internationally by engaging in community-based learning.
• Fulfills the Undergraduate Certificate in Global Health field experience requirement.

Deadline is December 1, 2017.  Program Details