Seth Murray, a corn breeder at Texas A&M, and his team of graduate students are breeding new hybrids of blue and red corn lines and studying their antioxidant potential. Antioxidants have desirable health benefits and the research could lead to viable new corn varieties with high antioxidant content. “This research is really exciting because if we can increase antioxidants in our diet hopefully that will lead to a healthier population, a healthier planet,” says Murray. 

Murray’s innovative corn research was just one of many projects highlighted at the joint annual meeting of the Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee and the National Association of Plant Breeders held at Texas A&M in College Station May 23-25, 2011. Plant breeders from across North America had a chance to share their cutting edge research with colleagues and peers.

Around 200 delegates from public and private sectors heard from a wide range of speakers on topics directly impacting plant breeding ranging from intellectual property, to breeding for climate change. There was also much discussion on promotion and education strategies, as plant breeding is more critical now than ever before, with funding and the number of plant breeders declining.

“We can’t train students appropriately without vital breeding programs behind that education so funding for public research is critical today,” says Rita Mumm, director of the Illinois Plant Breeding Center and incoming president of NAPB. Mumm says a top priority for NAPB in 2011 will be education and outreach.

By 2050, the number of humans is expected to exceed 9 billion. Providing food, feed fuel and fiber for this enormous population is an ominous challenge facing humankind, without significant addition of new arable lands, challenges of changing weather patterns and decreased quantity and quality of fresh water. Plant breeders are the key to developing superior crops to meet these world needs.

“There needs to be a sense of urgency around plant breeding as an important contributor to managing all kinds of global change, which is coming to us with increasing velocity,” says Donn Cummings, global breeder sourcing lead for Monsanto. “While these challenges are daunting and complex, agricultural innovation delivered with the aid of plant breeding innovation remains central to our well being."