Diversity Prospecting for an Open Source Plant Breeding Framework

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2013: $9,945.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Grant Recipient: University of Wisconsin- Madison
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Irwin Goldman
University of Wisconsin- Madison

Annual Reports


  • Vegetables: carrots


  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture, transitioning to organic
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems

    Proposal abstract:

    Humans began plant breeding to domesticate crop plants initially for increased yields. As selection continued genotypes were chosen for improved flavor and other desirable traits such as non-shattering grains. Genotypes we use today are continually being selected for adaptation to new pests and changing environmental conditions. These successes are directly related to the ability of farmers and plant breeders to access diverse plant genetic resources. We are currently experiencing a dramatic transition in how plant germplasm is distributed, developed, and released; from a freely available resource, primarily in the public sector, into proprietary structures managed largely by the private sector. Farmers need access to a wide variety of cultivars that suit diverse environments and that appeal to their customers. Access to diverse cultivars and the traits they encompass is becoming more restricted due to increasing use of a wider variety of intellectual property rights protections. Using carrot as a model crop, this project will explore germplasm diversity and its associated intellectual property rights to determine how these forces impact farmers’ and plant breeders’ access to and sharing of germplasm. A set of nearly all carrot cultivars of every market class available in the United States has been obtained and will be planted in replicated trials at two organic farms in the Madison, WI area. Three datasets will be collected: (1) phenotypic diversity such as shape, color, taste and human health attributes; (2) DNA sequence information for each cultivar for assessing genotypic diversity; and (3) an accounting of any form of legal protection or restrictions associated with each cultivar that may impact future breeding efforts. These datasets will be used to map clusters of phenotypic and genotypic diversity in carrot, which will be overlaid by a map that indicates where this diversity may be used and where this diversity is restricted for breeding. In addition, with this information and farmer collaborator input, our team will begin to develop several populations that capture diversity available for breeding. Populations will be released under a framework that ensures germplasm diversity will remain available for others to use in breeding programs and on farms in the future. Access to and utilization of diverse germplasm will help facilitate the development of new cultivars with useful traits for farmers and will ensure genetic diversity essential for resilient agricultural systems.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project has the potential for several positive short, intermediate and long-term outcomes. In the short term, we will gain knowledge of the diversity across carrot cultivars grown in the United States and how intellectual property rights could impact farmers’ and plant breeders’ access to and benefit from genetic diversity in carrot. In the intermediate term, in collaboration with farmers, we will begin to create populations that preserve useful diversity from within available cultivars. These populations will then be released to ensure that access to this genetic diversity remains freely available in the future. By publishing and presenting this type of analysis in carrot, we will be providing a foundation for the analysis and application of this methodology to other crops. By partnering with the Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) and other plant breeders, we can begin to gain a better sense of the relationship between intellectual property rights and crop diversity. In the long term, this project will create awareness of intellectual property rights and how they restrict innovation and access to genetic diversity in crop plants. This project will contribute toward an alternative approach to increasingly restrictive intellectual property rights, one that fosters sharing of germplasm among farmers and breeders.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.