Question: How does your job support modern agriculture in America?
Today, agriculture in America no longer consists of simply harvesting a crop and then choosing or purchasing the best seed to begin next year. Today, farmers have to consider the best strategies to combat drought, pests and invasive weeds and still bring the optimum yield to market. There are now many tools created by modern science and technology that are helping farmers bring a higher quality crop to market. Traits such as insect and herbicide resistance no longer have to be selectively bred into elite lines through many generations. They can now be genetically engineered into the plants within two to three generations. We can also map adventitious genes and target those genes for selection into the next generation. Through this process, we can cut down the time it takes to create new and superior products for the farmer.
My job as a research specialist is to ensure that those desired traits are indeed in the plants that are going to be the progenitors for seed that will go to market. Another important aspect of my job is to ensure that traits that are not supposed to be in those plants are truly absent. With the onset of molecular breeding, a major function of my job is to genotype plants for both a marker of interest from a donor plant as well as traits that were passed on from the other parent which has already proven to be better than other lines. By using molecular markers, we are able to forgo simply looking at the plants and choosing the ones that “look” right and instead can take a peek into the actual genetic makeup of the plants and know exactly what traits they have. This way, seed with the desired trait can go to market more quickly and more efficiently than seed that was produced by traditional breeding methods. Not only does my job help to create newer and better seed for farmers, but it also ensures that they are getting the highest quality seed possible.