Purdue University College of Agriculture Dean Jay Akridge recently made good on his pledge to hire a soybean breeder to strengthen the plant breeding program at Purdue. It's already recognized as one of the premier undergraduate and graduate programs for producing plant breeders in the country. With the addition of soybean breeder Katherine Rainey, the department is even stronger, Akridge believes.
The industry realized it forgot about who would produce the base genetics to put traits in for almost a decade. Now the industry is hurrying to play catch up, taking various steps to encourage students to enter plant breeding as a field of study and possible career. Purdue, under the direction of Herb Ohm, the wheat breeder, still had a strong program that blends both biotechnology and traditional plant breeding, putting the university in a unique position to produce breeders with training in both areas for the future.
Hiring the soybean breeder means Purdue can do more than look for new soybean genes. Once genes are discovered in the lab, the soybean breeder can see that they are tested in the field. Her role will be tied closely to the discovery of new genes, possibly form wild soybeans or other sources, and to incorporating those genes into new lines.
Shaun Casteel, Purdue University Extension agronomist and soybean specialist, will also work with the new breeder and lab to help search and test key traits in higher yield and disease resistance. "The goal probably won't be to develop new commercial lines from here ," he says. Ohm still does that with wheat, marketing it through Ag Alumni seed. Instead, Casteel believes it might be possible for the Purdue soybean program to come up with genes or traits that might prove useful to industry through licensing or royalty-type arrangements.