Work with UW-Stevens Point aims to draw new talent to plant breeding

A new research and teaching partnership between UW-Madison and UW-Stevens Point should yield benefits for both the potato and plant breeding industries while opening a window to a new career for some Wisconsin undergraduate biology majors. The collaborators hope to develop new lines of potatoes with higher calcium content, explains Jiwan Palta, UW-Madison professor of horticulture. Calcium is a key to retaining the quality of potatoes that go into storage, which includes 80 percent of Wisconsin’s crop. They also hope to develop new interest in the career of plant breeding, adds Palta, principal investigator on the project, which is funded by the USDA’s National Research Initiative.

“Traditional plant breeding isn’t happening at rate as it was 20 years ago, because the emphasis has shifted to basic biology and biotechnology. The industry is concerned that we’re not training enough new plant breeders,” Palta says.

The instructional portion of the project focuses on biology students at UW-Stevens Point, Palta says. The school has a sizable number of biology majors, who normally wouldn’t have any exposure to plant breeding.

Four faculty members at Madison and two at Stevens Point are currently developing a one-week course in plant breeding that will be offered at the end of the spring semester. Some of those who take will be offered internships in industry or at the UW-Madison.

“This will give them a feel for the world of plant breeding, and, we hope, will instill an interest in plant breeding as a career,” Palta adds.