Plant Breeder Jobs

Do you realize how lucky you are when you enjoy the tangy sweetness of a Clementine, a seedless watermelon, or a beetle free potato?

These are all innovations created by plant breeders.

A plant breeder, or plant geneticist, studies the genetic code of plants with the intention of creating new varieties of plants. Plant breeders work with seeds and plants to select desirable traits so they can produce bigger, better, and more adaptable plants. Plant breeding produces higher yields of corn, develops a sweeter citrus, makes stronger trees, creates frost resistant flowers, generates more colorful flowers, and invents new foods like the grapple.

Originally plants adapted over time. Plant breeding became a science in the 1800’s when Augustine Monk Gregor Mendel established the laws of inheritance by breeding pea plants. It gained popularity at the end of the 20th century as a way to develop higher quality, improved plants. These plants may have increased size, improved grains, grow taller, have shorter maturity periods, produce larger crop yields, develop a better taste, or resist drought, fungus, pests, diseases, weeds, and frost.

In order to accomplish these lofty goals, plants must be bred to have these desirable traits. This means that plant breeders must create the variation, eliminate the unwanted traits, evaluate the new plant, isolate and release the new variety, multiply the plant, and distribute the plant. It is a long process, but the results can be outstanding improvements, plus increased profits.

Plant breeding is a very complex agricultural and horticultural science that can happen in two ways. Plant breeders can look for desirable traits in plants and then breed those characteristics into the crops. This can be done through breeding, inbreeding, and crossbreeding of closely or distantly related plants. The other option involves complex molecular techniques of genetic engineering that involve manipulating the genetic code with mutations, hybridization, electroporation, and biolistics. These strains are called cultivars. Both ways result in new varieties of plants with desired traits.

Plant breeders stir up quite a bit of controversy. First they often want to protect their work as intellectual property. Like Microsoft, they don’t want to tell anybody how they did it. They want to be able to market their product exclusively and collect profits on their “invention.” Secondly, there is an argument that plant breeders are messing with nature. Lots of questions have been asked about new varieties of plants. If a plant is more resistant to a pest, will the pest adapt and throw off the food chain? What will happen if genetically modified plants breed with wild plants? Does the new food crop still have nutritional value? These are just a few of the many questions that plant breeders must consider while they work.

Plant breeders are scientists. They attend school for plant pathology, genetics, or botany. They work for plant genetic firms, research universities, or large corporations. Overall their plants have proven to beneficial, and this has had an impact on the world. See: Agriculture Genetics Jobs in Farming section.
Their work may go unnoticed. We may not notice bigger yields, taller plants, or resistance to drought, but we will notice lower prices, sweeter tastes, and new fruits.

Essentially the job of plant breeders is to weed out the weak traits and promote the strong ones. It’s an advanced science that is very challenging and that’s why plant breeders make a salary of $50,000 to $93,000 per year.

However you feel about plant breeding, genetically altered plants are already out in the forests, fields, and homes near you. They are here to stay. Most likely you are looking at or digesting one right now and don’t even know it. If you think you can develop the ultimate genetic recipe and create the world’s perfect plant, then this cutting edge career is the place to be.

Quick Facts About Breeding Plants

Job Title: Plant Breeder, Plant Geneticist
Description: Study plant genetics with the intention of creating new varieties of plants
Employers: Seed and Plant Breeding Firms, Universities, Corporations
Pay: $50,000 to $93,000 per year

National Association of Plant Breeders
Global Plant Breeding

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