Crop improvement and genomics

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Greg Baute Ph.D.

Crop plants are amongst our most critical technologies, especially as we are faced with climate change, a growing population, and changing diets. These crop plants are the product of millions of years of evolution, thousands of years of human selection, and decades of scientific improvement. It is my ambition to apply both established and novel genetic and genomic approaches to advance these crops further. Building an understanding of the underlying genetic mechanisms at play in domestication, improvement, transgressive segregation, and heterosis will be essential in this task.

Currently, I am a trait geneticist with Monsanto's vegetable seed division. Here I work with the company's vast research network and capabilities to understand important and complex traits in tomato, enabling their use in the global tomato breeding pipeline. This position is also called a 'Discovery scientist' and involves quantitative genetics, genomic analysis, and plant pathology.

My Ph.D work focused on the domestication and improvement of sunflower. I received my Ph.D in Botany from the University of British Columbia in 2015 for my work in Loren Rieseberg's sunflower genomics lab. Using genomics I studied the history of crop genomes; understanding past selection may be key in future improvement efforts. These analyses have also revealed prevalent use of crop wild relatives in breeding programs in the past. In order to faciliate the continued use of wild relatives in sunflower breeding I developed a large number of wild by elite sunflower populations which are now being used in multiple international breeding programs. These lines show transgressive segregation for several key agronomic traits. For more details you can check out my thesis.

Another recurring theme in my research has been heterosis. Heterosis, or hybrid vigour, can manifest itself in myriad ways. In sunflower, the heterosis and inbreeding depression are apparent, as is the signature of selection in its heterotic gene pools. Tomato is also a hybrid crop, which is a major consideration in how I approach my projects at Monsanto. My M.Sc. work in Keith Adams' lab (also at UBC) investigated the role of alternative splicing in hybrid rice. The source of this long standing interest goes back to the hybrid seed corn farm on which I grew up. While working in the field, the hidden potential of such sad looking inbred lines planted a seed of curiosity that continues to grow to this day.