Based out of North Carolina State University, Jim Holland works with maize, or corn, from all over the world to identify varieties and genes that could be of use to farmers here in the United States. There are about 300 different races of maize around the world, Holland says, and we have one kind in the U.S.
As a research geneticist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service and professor of crop science at the university, one area of focus for Holland is looking at breeding corn varieties with low levels of susceptibility to Fusarium — a fungus that infects corn and can lead to a toxin that is harmful to animals and people if consumed.
Through his work, Holland hopes to release less susceptible varieties that companies can take and commercialize for farmers to use.
To help his efforts, Holland relies on some of the newest technologies available. “DNA markers allow us to carefully evaluate a subset of measurements and build a prediction model,” he says. “This allows us to double and triple the size of our experiments.”
In looking back over the past 20 years, Holland says the biggest changes that have affected his work are the advancements in sequencing technologies and computational improvements. They have revolutionized the plant breeding world, he says.