FABI MSc student Ingrid Marais attended the National Association of Plant Breeders (NAPB) 2020 annual meeting thanks to a South-African Plant Breeders Association (SAPBA) sponsorship. Ingrid is a student-member of SAPBA and a member of the Molecular Plant-Pathogen Interaction research group in FABI. This conference was hosted and organized by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and took place virtually from 17-20 August. Each session had about three to four speakers and questions could be submitted via a Q and A box. Some interesting topics discussed included: ethics within breeding and commercialization of products, gene editing regulations within the US and the potential that gene editing has for African orphan crops such as cassava. Interesting breeding programs which focus on lesser known plants such as hops, hemp and ryegrass were also discussed. Breeding, which focuses on specific quality traits for example popcorn and wheat nutritional quality, were highlighted.

One of the sessions discussed big data and how important it is to link the phenotype to the genotype of the plant, and, for instance, in scenarios where it’s difficult to have very large populations of plants, videogaming software could be used to simulate synthetic images of the plants. One of the sessions highlighted that, with respect to the increasing concern about climate change, it is important to focus breeding programs on abiotic stresses; for example high heat and low water conditions.  An interesting panel discussion was hosted where breeders from different backgrounds, including academics and industry role players, highlighted specific needs that are lacking in the plant breeding sphere. Some of these skills include proper exposure to basic agronomy, how to use and interpret data to do predictive modelling as well as education on project management. Ingrid says that she found this conference to be very interesting and it was a great opportunity to broaden her knowledge in the plant breeding field. She would like to thank the SAPBA committee for giving her the opportunity to attend the NAPB annual 2020 meeting.