Next Great Frontier in Plant Breeding: Phenomics

plant-close-upAs the first half of 2016 has proved to be the hottest ever recorded, Earth is on track to have yet another record-breaking year. (Where FFAR is located in DC, we broke the record for the number of 90+ degree days by a whopping 14 days – fifty-seven 90+ days this year!) Record heat, in addition to some recent disasters attributed to climate change, serves as yet another reminder that climate change will impact every facet of modern life, especially agriculture.

FFAR is dedicated to funding research that, in the face of these environmental pressures, will contribute to new ways of producing enough food to sustainably feed a growing population. The plant breeding enterprise is expected to produce new cultivars that are more nutritious, climate resilient, and have increased yield in addition to other desirable traits. We have seen great advancement through genome sequencing to understand the genes present in crops and characterizing plants at the genetic level has become easier through new technologies. But making the association between these genes and the desired crop traits grown in different field environments can be complex. We have an incredible challenge with plants, because unlike animals, whose shape and growth are generally constant within one species, two genetically identical plants grown in different environments can display enormous variation in their traits. This is one of the main challenges in phenomics. And it has led to the realization that phenomics is the next great frontier in plant breeding.

Tackling major bottlenecks in the world of phenomics is one area of interest for FFAR, and we aim to leverage public and private sector partnerships to do this. As a first step, we cohosted a convening event with Purdue University to determine the research needs and opportunities to accelerate progress in phenomics. This event brought together representatives from more than 30 academic institutions, 19 regulatory agencies and commodity groups, and 34 companies with participants from 11 countries. Not only did this event showcase some of the cutting edge developments in phenomics, it also highlighted multiple challenges the community faces, including the big data challenges that come with collecting large amounts of phenotypic data, the platforms to share them, and the ways we as a community best identify the most important traits to go after. We learned a lot during our conversations about the needs of both the public and private sectors, and determined prime areas where we could potentially work together. We want the phenomics area to build into a grand movement where shared and assessable research outcomes advance the field at a record pace.

Over the next few months, FFAR will build on the excitement and momentum generated from the convening event to build new partnerships that will accelerate progress in this important field. We look forward to working with you in this exciting adventure.

-Sally Rockey, Executive Director

For more information:

Please leave a comment below or contact John Reich, the lead Scientific Program Director on this initiative.


  1. Alvin Smucker
    Alvin Smucker says

    The youthful new FFAR Grantees are an excellent start. In addition to these and the phenomics there is an essential need to expand sustainable agriculture to the literally billions of under producing and abandoned soils due to water shortages.

    I would like to introduce a rapidly developing soil water retention technology that is breaking production records of grain and vegetables on sandy soils, irrigated with rather high IWUE. Please identify where a 640 word summary of this technology currently in 4 states and 5 countries could be submitted.

    Thank you,

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