2019 Great Lakes Plant Breeding Initiative Field Trip to Michigan State University
By Kaitlyn Sjonnesen and Adam Brown
At the end of June, Plant Agriculture faculty and students made their way to East Lansing, MI to attend the annual Great Lakes Plant Breeding Initiative (GLPBI). GLPBI is a 3 day event shared by the University of Guelph, Michigan State University (MSU), Cornell University, and the Ohio State University. Its aims are to connect students across institutions and exhibit the host school’s research programs. MSU graciously held the conference this year, from June 26th to 28th, 2019. Plant Agriculture Dept. attendees included veterans of the trip, as well as first-year graduate students in plant breeding.
Guelph Attendants Left to Right: Dr. Peter Pauls, Dr. Milad Eskandari, Adam Brown, Erika DeBrouwer, Kaitlyn Sjonnesen, Maryam Vazin, Chandi Priyanatha, Christine Lee, Cory Schilling, Dr. Istvan Rajcan. Missing - Huilin Hong and Fawn Turner.
Above: The beautiful MSU campus and the State Capitol building in Lansing, MI.
On Wednesday, the event kicked off with a welcome barbecue at the MSU Agronomy Farm. Faculty and students alike mingled and chatted about one another’s crops. We then migrated to local brewery, Arcadia Smokehouse to kick back after our respective travels.
Students kicking back at Arkadia Smokehouse after a BBQ social at MSU
On Thursday morning, we wasted no time diving into field tours. First stop was Dr. Eric Olsen’s winter wheat fields, where he introduced us to his genomic prediction system which targets pre-harvest sprout, scab resistance, and DON prediction. Using multiple locations spread across the state, and multiple replications, they are able to formulate a robust model that accurately predicts the best selections.
Dr. Eric Olsen showcasing his latest winter wheat varieties to be released.
Next, we returned to the main agriculture research station to learn about Dr. Dave Douches’ potato breeding program. Dr. Douches operates an applied breeding program working to develop new varieties of potatoes to supply the chip industry. As the #1 chip producing state, Michigan growers are working toward varieties that keep longer in cold storage to supply the year round potato chip demand. What’s more, Dave’s program works to produce varieties with resistance to potato virus Y, potato scab, and leaf blight. A few of MSU and Dr. Douches’ prized developments includes two chip processing varieties Manistee (MSL292-A) and Mackinaw (MSX540-4), and a tablestock variety with purple flesh named Blackberry (MSZ109-10PP).
(Above) Dr. Douches describes his program’s breeding objectives to a backdrop of potato seedlings. (Below) Dr. Douches demonstrates the deep purple flesh of ‘Blackberry’ (MSZ109-10PP).
After this, we had the pleasure of hearing from Dr. Addie Thompson and her lab’s members on the widespread interests of the corn breeding program at MSU. Their research priorities include plant phenotyping improvement, tarspot resistance, kernel nutrient composition, and regulated gene expression. We also had the chance to see how they take advantage of innovative technology to evaluate plant health, stalk structure and leaf canopy, and more. During drone flight demo, we were amused to learn that one of the biggest hazards to the drones themselves are small songbirds such as red wing blackbirds!
To cap off our morning of field and research tours, graduate student Paul Collins welcomed us into the in the soybean breeding lab. The MSU soybean breeding program focuses on developing varieties with resistance to aphids, sudden death syndrome, white mould, cyst nematode, phytophthora root rot, and pythium seed and root rot. They also work to develop special seed quality traits such as high oleic acid, low saturated fatty acid, low linolenic acid, and high protein. Within these objectives, MSU has been successful in releasing many successful regional cultivars.
Ph.D. candidate Paul Collins walks us through MSU’s soybean breeding program’s breeding strategies.
After a morning of outdoor tours, we welcomed an afternoon of seminars and air conditioning inside. We heard from a captivating line up of plant breeders and genetics researchers. Dr. Patrick Edger engaged our attention with his findings on the rapid dominance of a progenitor genome after a polyploidy event. Dr. Karen Cichey highlighted the challenges of popularizing dry beans in North American diets. She shared her program’s efforts to breed a “20 minute meal”, while maintaining flavour and a healthy nutritional profile. After the day’s session came to a close, we visited a local watering hole, where we socialized with our peers and discussed what we learned that day.
For our final day of tours, we headed 45 minutes west of the main campus to Clarksville, where MSU hosts a small fruit and tree fruit research centre. The beautiful, 440 acre property boasts many different types of trees including apple, prune, peach, cherry, chestnuts, and a variety of other crops. Surrounded by a range of apple lines, we learned about Dr. van Nocker’s apple breeding program, which aims to improve fruit nutrient content, tree planting density, and production efficiency. A current and notable project at MSU is the development of an apple variety with red flesh designed for hard cider as the end use product. By taking advantage of the MYB10 gene which controls the red flesh colour in apples, hard cider can have a rose colour, which appeals to the booming cider industry and its consumers.
Last but not least, we heard from Dr. Amy Iezzoni about the cherry breeding program that resides at the Clarksville research centre. Dr. Lezzoni works to breed cherries for incorporation into new food products for the market. Some of the traits she works with are resistance to leaf spot, frost tolerance, drought tolerance, and fruit taste (sweet vs. tart).
Dr. Lezzoni talking about her cherry breeding program at the Clarksville research station.
With that, our GLPBI 2019 conference came to a close and we loaded up our luggage and headed back to Guelph. What an amazing opportunity to learn from industry colleagues and to see first hand the impactful work they do in agriculture. Until next year, when the GLPBI delegates head to Ohio State University!
Partial support for this trip by the OAC Learning Trust (Richards Trust) grant is gratefully acknowledged.