Can you speak a foreign language? If so, did you learn it by using books or tapes, or by visiting a country where it is spoken? Laura Potter says you can learn a foreign language much faster today using computer-assisted technologies that didn’t exist when a lot of people were learning a second language years ago. In the same way, she uses computer-assisted technology to capture the language of corn when it’s exposed to a multitude of different environments. Then she and her team use what they learn from these “conversations” to develop predictive models that help corn breeders zero in more quickly on traits that modern corn hybrids need.
It’s just one of the things that excites Potter, head of analysis and data science for Syngenta’s plant breeding arm, about the future of crops and plant breeding. Recently, Potter and two colleagues — Gusui Wu, Syngenta’s head of global seeds research, and Warren Kruger, head of North America seed development for Syngenta — were asked about what excites them when they look toward the future of plant breeding. Here are their responses:
Potter: Improvements in satellite technology will give us higher resolution and broader pictures of crop images during the season. What we’re getting today from UAV flights is good, but satellite imagery will be even more helpful in our data analysis work as we understand how crops react to different environments.
If a specific weather pattern occurs in June and again in August, it may have a completely different effect on corn because the crop is at a different stage of development. Satellite images will help us define those effects more clearly.
Kruger: I believe what we can learn from advanced soil sensors about variations in soils will be exciting. They will give us new layers of information and more precise data. We can use that information in our breeding programs.
Wu: I’m excited about our traits pipeline. We have a robust pipeline. Today, we have very good traits for insect protection and many other things. But insects and all pests change over time, and our pipeline is developing the next generation of traits which will set us up for future advances.
Potter: I’m also excited about potential advances in the ability to predict weather more accurately several months in advance. If we can better predict what weather conditions will be like, and we know how specific genetics react to certain weather conditions because we’ve listened to crops in a multitude of environments, then we can be better prepared. Our people who work directly with farmers will be in a better position to help them select genetics for the conditions they expect.
Wu: I’m interested to see what happens when the various disciplines we work in converge. When technologies developed through science and applications from data analysis converge, I expect new innovations will happen. I believe it will be exciting when science and data analysis converge.