Genetics, data affect direction of ag research | Regional: Iowa Farmer Today

AMES, Iowa — Data is key when it comes to research. And the world is getting to be very good at collecting and analyzing data.

“That’s a big bucket research area,” says Joe Colletti, senior associate dean in the College of Agriculture at Iowa State University and associate director of the Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station.

Colletti says that while research is being done in a variety of areas, a couple of types stand out today. One of those is the collection, standardization and use of data by and for farmers.

Another area of great advance is predictive genomics, which has been a hot issue for some time. Phenomics is a big thing in the plant and animal sciences research fields, Colletti says. Scientists are looking at genomes and phenotypes as a way of better predicting what the offspring of any genetic cross will look like, not only one generation down the road but many generations down the road. That type of assessment could help speed and fine tune research for crops and for livestock.

That fits into the work of the commodity organizations. Rod Williamson, director of research and development for the Iowa Corn Growers Association, says that his organization is looking at research in several basic areas.

The ICGA emphasis is on non-food industrial products. One example is bioplastics which are already being made using other biological products but which could be made using corn. Right now, he says, plastic water bottles are often made using sugar cane from South America.

The process includes a number of steps. If researchers can reduce the number of steps involved and can do so using corn, it could open up new markets. If corn captured just 3 percent of that market it could mean use for 100 million bushels of corn.

Williamson says other research supported by the corn growers includes work on higher blends of ethanol in fuel. On the production side, he says nitrogen efficiency by plants through better genetics is a priority. And he says the genomic efforts cited by Colletti are also a priority.

Other commodity organizations are also emphasizing research. Scott Nelson, director of the on-farm network for the Iowa Soybean Association, cites several research priorities.

He says crop inoculants are one area of interest. Another is better weed control, especially of waterhemp and Palmer amaranth. Soybean cyst nematode remains a priority, as does corn rootworm. And variable rate technology and multiple-variety planting technology are also items he sees developing.

But one of the most exciting topics of discussion for many researchers is CRISPR/Cas9 technology. CRISPR/Cas9 is an RNA-guided genome editing tool that allows researchers to knock out genes or insert genes more easily into a cell line.

Colletti says the technology isn’t aimed at adding genes from other plants or animals, but…

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