Projected Focus Areas


A team of breeders and associated faculty will use traditional and marker-based selection approaches as well as functional genomics and transformation technology to develop improved agriculturally produced bioproducts. These will include substrates for the production of renewable fuel/energy sources, high-value feedstocks for manufacture of various bioproducts and transgenic crops from which high-value proteins and non protein products can be derived through bioprocessing.

  • Sweet potatoes - Conventional and transgenic breeding approaches are being used to increase starch yield and develop enzyme enhanced “self-processing” industrial sweet potatoes (ISP) for the production of ethanol. These breeding approaches are being coupled with new planting and harvest technologies to significantly reduce ISP production costs, thus improving the economic feasibility of ethanol from ISP.
  • Triticale – Breeding will focus on higher grain yield. Although the yield per acre will not equal corn, triticale serves as an excellent; rotational crop.
  • Exotic corn - The tall stature and large stalk diameter of many exotic races should enhance breeding for biomass per acre that exceeds normal corn.
  • Switchgrass – High-yielding, very productive cultivars have been bred and recently released at N.C. State. Genetic transformation will be utilized to improve biomass quality for enhanced biofuel production.
  • Forest trees – Breeding will focus on producing a higher percentage of cellulosic components useful for biofuel production.
  • Cotton - Functional genomics will be used to identify points of control of current and future fiber quality traits as well as using cotton fiber as a model for improvement of cellulose synthesis in biomass crops.
  • Soybeans – Breeding will focus on higher oil content that will enhance the production of biodiesel.
  • Peanut – Efforts will concentrate on selection of peanuts strictly for high oil concentration for biodiesel production.
  • Peanut – Breeding will focus on development of peanuts with enhanced levels of CoQ 10 for the production of this valuable nutraceutical from peanut oil and production of more nutritious peanut products.
  • Tobacco – Efforts will concentrate on development of transgenic tobaccos and methods of production compatible with extraction of pharmaceutical proteins through bioprocessing; this effort includes development of special tobacco varieties for this purpose.

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Many of the N.C. State plant breeding programs are actively involved in the collection, maintenance and evaluation of germplasm collections. This work is critical to prevent the further erosion of genetic diversity and is essential to insure that germplasm sources are available as sources of pest resistance genes, genes for improving oil, protein, starch, flavor and other quality components of field and horticultural crops. Unfortunately, facilities for high-quality, long-term storage for many of these unique collections are inadequate, and too few personnel are available to evaluate the collections. Therefore, a concerted effort should be focused on maintenance and evaluation of germplasm in both field and horticultural crops.
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Transformation is being used to produce transgenics in several crops, including tobacco, pine, peanut, roses, sweet potato, switchgrass and certain tree species. Transformation technology has not been successful in many crops, particularly the horticultural crops (e.g., beans). Research approaches will be developed to provide improved transformation techniques, specifically focusing on those crops that previously could not be transformed, which should greatly enhance the use of this tool for many of the plant breeding projects. We will also seek wherever possible to develop proprietary transformation technologies to facilitate the broad deployment of transgenic varieties. This focus could be linked with the research anticipated at the Plants for Human Health Institute on the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis. 
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Although extensive gene mapping has been accomplished in a number of the field crops, there is a need for the development of maps in many of the fruit and vegetable crops. A gene mapping focus on horticultural crops could also be linked with the research anticipated at the Plants for Human Health Institute on the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis. 
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North Carolina farmers depend on N.C. State breeding programs as their sole source of cultivars for many crops, such as peanuts, sweet potato, tobacco, turfgrass and several horticultural crops for which there is no private company investment. Even for the major crops such as corn, soybean and small grains, the amount of private company breeding work in North Carolina and the Southeast has been greatly reduced in recent years. Also, in the public area, the number of research programs in the Southeast working on cultivar development has been greatly reduced. Therefore, it is imperative that N.C. State maintain and increase its focus on cultivar development to foster the economic stability of the farming community. 
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Food safety and food security is usually thought of as a concern for human populations and thus would probably be more focused on the horticultural crops. However, the grain crops and grass crops are definitely important in providing calories for chickens, turkeys, pigs, beef cattle and for the rapidly emerging renewable biofuels industry. A major factor in food security is breeding cultivars that are adaptable and remain viable in many varied and often harsh environments; however, a part of this focus may be pursued in concert with government monitoring and regulatory agencies and would likely involve plans and technology to monitor and counteract the deliberate spread of such things as toxins or toxin-producing organisms. In addition, reducing the risk of allergic reactions through the study of the genetics of allergens in peanut and soybean will be pursued, using a pig model as a tester system. Also, the reduction of aflatoxin in peanut will be pursued by transferring genes from other crops into peanut. We anticipate that this effort will involve both conventional and marker-assisted breeding as well as genetic engineering efforts to identify and/or produce crops capable of meeting these challenges. 
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A major component of many of the N.C. State plant breeding programs is the collection, active maintenance and evaluation of germplasm collections. The prevention of the erosion of genetic diversity and the maintenance of diverse germplasm pools is imperative to provide sources of useful genes, including genes for pest resistance and genes for improving oil, protein, starch, flavor and other quality components of field and horticultural crops. 
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