As growers decide which hybrids and varieties they will select for the 2015 season, plant breeders continue to refine and improve the science behind the seed. Rapid developments in genomics, analytics and other technologies currently underway are increasing the need for not only breeders, but molecular biologists, computer scientists and numerous other specialists working together to bring advanced genetics and integrated crop solutions to market. Syngenta fosters these collaborations through its Breeding Academy, a first-of-its-kind global learning initiative designed to enable the continued development of scientists at Syngenta and beyond.
“Plant breeding involves much more than just plant breeders themselves,” said Heather Merk, program lead for the Syngenta Breeding Academy. “Participating in the Academy helps Syngenta employees realize the value of collaborating across disciplines and functions in the development of innovative products that benefit growers.”
Syngenta also is working with leading universities that have programs in plant breeding and related disciplines. For example, the company waives registration fees and enrols eligible employees from all over the world in the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s (UNL) Plant Breeding for Non-Breeders online course.
“This program educates participants,” said Keenan Amundsen, Ph.D., assistant professor in UNL’s Agronomy & Horticulture Department. “The added knowledge helps develop a better understanding of how to answer questions like ‘Why is my seed so expensive? Why do we use GMOs (genetically modified organisms)? Why do breeders introduce genetic diversity if we want uniformity in our crops?’ and so on.”
UNL delivers the 10-week course online to accommodate students in different time zones around the world. These and other university courses are also becoming a core component of the “curriculum” available to Syngenta Breeding Academy participants.
North Carolina State University’s (NCSU) Plant Breeding Symposium also receives funding from Syngenta. NCSU students in the Plant Breeding Club learn leadership skills through the planning and implementation of this biennial symposium, said Charles Stuber, the club’s advisor and director of the NCSU Plant Breeding Center. The program provides opportunities for plant breeding faculty, commercial plant breeders and students to network with their peers and symposium speakers, which can help further their careers.
All of these activities foster team spirit and leadership in the evolving world of plant breeding—and help bring innovations to the world’s growers.
“As a company, we are committed to producing food more efficiently to help feed the globe’s ever-growing population, a cornerstone of our Good Growth Plan,” Merk said. “Plant breeders will play a crucial role in creating more efficient and productive plant varieties. Efforts like the Syngenta Breeding Academy not only help garnish general interest in plant breeding, but also provide an educational outlet for the next generation of breeders.”
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