NCCC-167 2011 Edition

posted in: Science | 0

A couple years ago, Anastasia wrote about the NCCC-167 North Central Region Corn Breeding Research meeting. (NCCC stands for North Central Communications Committee.) This time around, it was my turn to attend, and it went pretty well if you ask me. After a short drive from Madison to St. Charles, IL, the one-day conference started just after lunch.

Some of the talks on the first afternoon were on the effect of pieces of the wild teosinte genome in maize varieties, aka introgression lines, and selecting for dark orange color in the kernels, for example. Reid, a fellow UW-Madison grad student, gave a great presentation on the performance of some new sweet corn lines compared to popular varieties.

On the second day, the first order of business was a round-table discussion from 8-11:30, where breeders and grad students could get up in the middle of the group and draw their breeding strategies on an easel. During a break, I snapped this photo of some of the presenters and other innocent bystanders, and as a result, when I went in front of the group to talk about my plant breeding videos, my only question was about the blog! As you can see, Frank here was telling people about it.

NCCC-167 presenters & more

Note Wenwei Xu on the left, and Seth Murray and Marilyn Warburton in the 3rd and 4th positions. Marilyn studies resistance to fungi that produce Aflatoxin, a toxin that stunts growth in both livestock and human beings. Aflatoxin levels are highly regulated in the US, while in developing countries it remains a persistent health issue.

After a delicious build-yourself sandwich lunch, it was back to a few more talks. Wenwei Xu talked about how to evaluate how big your sample size must be if you are studying corn earworm resistance. It turns out that with a statistical model, he showed that sampling 5 ears is just as good as 10. Seth Murray gave an interesting talk about modeling the effective recombination rate in maize chromosomes. The ‘Big Science’ project in the maize genetics community is a huge crossed population called the Nested Association Mapping population, or NAM for short. He was able to model how often chromosomes trade arms in meiosis, an important process that recombines or mixes up the DNA an organism inherits from each of its parents.

Sandwich Spread

There was also a great presentation by another graduate student named Joana, where she talked about modeling the roots of maize. She showed how she put together a computerized photo box for photographing the root structure of plants that were dug up from the field. This presentation was not only image-rich, but it also had some video clips of rotating root balls, making it a great way to round out the end of the NCCC-167 meeting.

NCC-167 2011 Group Photo

The whole group gathered for a photograph in the beautiful 65 degree March weather we were having. As he usually does, Frank N. Foode™ wandered through the crowd – as you can imagine a Supersweet ear of corn can be popular amongst corn breeders. Where’s Frank?

The meeting was over in the afternoon, and it was time then to rest up and get ready for the main event of the week, the 2011 International Maize Genetics Conference, held at the same hotel. Soon enough, Anastasia was on the scene and James as well. The conference adventures are just beginning!

Follow Karl Haro von Mogel:

Karl earned his Ph.D. in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics at UW-Madison, with a minor in Life Science Communication. His dissertation was on both the genetics of sweet corn and plant genetics outreach. He recently moved back to his home state of California. His favorite produce might just be squash.