Jeff Endelman, assistant professor of horticulture, was recently honored by the National Association of Plant Breeders with the association’s Early Career Scientist Award. This award recognizes scientists in the early stages of their plant breeding career who exhibit the ability to establish strong research foundations, to interact with multi-disciplinary teams, and to participate in relevant professional societies.
Endelman studied computational science for many years before discovering his calling as a plant breeder. As a graduate student in bioengineering at Caltech, he developed computational methods to optimize the in vitro evolution of enzymes and spent many weekends observing native plants in the wilderness areas of southern California.
Endelman left academia for two years to work on small vegetable farms, by which time he realized a career in plant breeding was the perfect way to combine his interests. He returned to graduate school to complete a PhD in Crop Science at Washington State University, where he conducted research on barley breeding and genetics. Toward the end of his PhD he created the software package rrBLUP for genome-wide prediction, which has been cited over 500 times. As a postdoc at Cornell University, he continued to research genomic selection by improving its theoretical foundation for inbred lines and investigating the optimal allocation of resources.
In 2013 Endelman joined the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to lead the potato breeding program. Over the past five years, he has overseen the release of 10 potato varieties, spanning all US market categories (chip; French fry; russet, red, and yellow fresh market).
One of the challenges with commercial potato is that it is autotetraploid, meaning the genome is organized in groups of four homologous chromosomes rather than homologous pairs. The Endelman group has developed several tools to facilitate molecular breeding in autotetraploids, including software to determine allele dosage for SNP array and GBS markers, software for genome-wide association analysis, and methods to partition genetic variance. In 2018 UW-Madison became the first potato breeding program in North America to implement genomic selection, based on a training set of 570 clones.
Endelman has been active in training students and postdocs at UW-Madison. He teaches an undergraduate course on “Genetically Modified Crops” and graduate courses on genetic mapping, polyploid genetics, and selection theory. One MS student, one PhD student, and three postdocs have been trained in his lab so far, and he has served on the thesis committee of 14 other graduate students.