Mike Thompson VP Partner Development, Benson Hill

The use of genomic selection in plant breeding may seem worlds apart from the use of advanced analytics in baseball, yet both are rooted in the same analysis methods and both improve performance by modeling and predicting outcomes.

Enriching your breeding program with the predictive breeding capabilities possible with genomic selection (GS) can improve the accuracy and precision of your efforts and will be a home run for your program in terms of time savings and money.

Breeders may not know how to get started. Here’s a quick, step-by-step playbook:

1.         Don’t swing at everything; keep your eye on the ball.

Start small with this technology. To get familiar with the process of incorporating genomic selection in your operations, pick one part of your plant breeding program that’s of particular interest to you or perhaps especially well organized. Next, choose a subset of that program to genotype. Phenotype and make selections from that subset. Then run an analysis for genomic selection.

Compare results from genomic selection analytics to selections made using only phenotypes.

2.         Know your players — organize your data early.

No baseball manager chooses his lineup without knowing how each player has fared in the past against the opposing pitcher. Genomic selection is similar; a great batting average is an outcome of good historical data sets. The better you know your data — on characteristics ranging from seed weight, maturity, oil and protein content, yield and more — the better your chances of making the best selections moving forward. If that data is scattered across different files, computers or even servers, now’s the time to start organizing it.

3.         Keep Score: Monitor your cost-benefit analysis every step of the way.

Although the cost of genotyping is declining, it is still a cost, so you’ll want to know when genomic selection is starting to pay off. That happens when you’re able to do either or both of the following:

–           Reduce the number of lines you trial.

–           Reduce the time it takes to go from a new crop to commercial trial. Instead of needing perhaps six years, you accomplish the feat in three or four.

Both benefits are the result of the greater efficiency and speed of breeding that’s enabled by genomic selection.

Repeat your cost-benefit analysis at each step through the breeding process. You’ll get a handle on both the timing and the size of your return.

4.         Use the information you collect in genomic selection to track your program and improve your lineup.

Keeping meticulous records is second nature to most plant breeders. Keep good data – both genotypic and phenotypic. This kind of recordkeeping will protect you against errors and seed mix-ups, ensure confidence in your results and guard against any potential legal liability.

5.         Choose an analytics platform that keeps you in the middle of the process.

To make good decisions, baseball managers make direct use of the data their team’s analysts have collected. They can’t be in the position of relying on others to hand them an answer that doesn’t take their knowledge about the game into account. They need analytics they can work through easily in a platform that’s manager friendly.

Likewise, breeders shouldn’t have to be fluent in computer science to use software platforms and get the answers they want. The interface used to analyze data should be easy and intuitive. I didn’t have to write a computer program to write this article on my laptop; a breeder should be able to handle the analytics involved in genomic selection with the same ease.

Want to step up your game? Click here to listen to the May 8 webinar, Putting the Power of Prediction in the hands of Plant Breeders with Dr. Kendra Meade, Director of Customer Success at Benson Hill.