Cyclones shaping the future of plant breeding

July 2, 2020

The next meeting of the National Association of Plant Breeders (NAPB) will be well represented by Cyclones, with multiple students—both undergraduate and graduate—who will be recognized for being accepted into the Borlaug Scholar program, including Cassie Winn, Hallie Longest and Clayton Carley.

The Borlaug Scholars program was established by the NAPB and is funded through the Agronomy Science Foundation. The goal is to strengthen the next generation of plant breeding science professionals, like the three Cyclones accepted into the program.

Borlaug Scholars are paired with volunteer mentors who are professional and scientific NAPB members. These mentors are committed to the professional development of their mentees, and Scholars can learn from their mentors and expand their networks. Scholars also receive free membership to the NAPB, recognition at the NAPB meeting held in August (virtually), as well as free registration and a cash prize.

Cassandra Anne Winn

Cassie Winn is a graduate student at Iowa State, having earned her bachelors of science in genetics and biotechnology from Brigham Young University in Utah. While she didn’t grow up on a farm, she spent much of her childhood in fields with her father, an employee of Syngenta.

“When I was young I would spend time walking through sweet corn and bean production fields with him,” Winn said. “It was one of my favorite things to do and I have fond memories of tagging along with him as he spoke to farmers and scouted fields.”

As a teen, she worked the production fields during the summer. In high school, her AP biology class sparked her passion for science, specifically in genetics and biotechnology.

“I felt strongly that I wanted to become a scientist,” Winn said. “So, when my dad told me about what plant breeders do and introduced me to a few breeders from Syngenta, I knew that was the career for me because it combined my passion for agriculture and my interest in genetics.”

She happened to earn an internship in corn breeding with Dow AgroSciences in Nevada, IA.

“I worked there for 7 months as an intern and was able to experience a commercial corn breeding program for a full growing season, from planting to harvest,” Winn said. “I learned a lot through that experience and it really solidified my desire to further my education in plant breeding.”

Being so close to Ames, she was able to explore the ISU campus, and had heard great things about the Agronomy department. When she was ready for graduate school, she chose to be a Cyclone and work with Dr. Jode Edwards.

Studying under Dr. Edwards, Winn focuses her research on evaluating the use of crop growth models in maize breeding for simulating genotype by environment interactions. She has been actively involved in the organization of both the RF Baker Plant Breeding Symposium and Predictive Plant Phenomics (P3) Symposium at Iowa State for the past four years, and has held multiple leadership positions within the Agronomy Department Graduate Student Club.

Hallie Longest

Longest also developed her passion for plants and genetics in her high school AP biology class, growing up in Knoxville, Tennessee. Her teacher encouraged an internship at the plant biotechnology labs at the University of Tennessee to further learn about plant genetics.

“I’ve also always been interested in the problem of food insecurity and I wanted to find a way to combine these pursuits,” Longest said. “Plant breeding is an excellent way to do this!”

She quickly found the Iowa State Agronomy department online, and after a campus visit, she knew it was the place for her undergraduate studies, and is currently pursuing a bachelors of science degree in Agronomy, with a focus on plant breeding and genetics.

“The highlight of my undergraduate experience so far has been interning in Dr. Jianming Yu’s maize breeding and quantitative genetics lab,” Longest said. “I began my internship here in November 2018 and since then I have learned so much from both the field and lab work I’ve been able to participate in.”

In Dr. Yu’s lab, Longest is working on an undergraduate research project on the genetics of sorghum germination, and plans to return in the fall after working at the Center for Urban Agriculture at the Knoxville Botanical Gardens this summer.  

She also received a first-place award for an undergraduate research presentation at the 2020 R.F. Baker Plant Breeding Symposium, where she presented a poster on her sorghum germination project.

After graduation she plans to earn her Ph.D. in crop genetics and work nationally and internationally with other scientists to alleviate food insecurity.

Clayton Carley

Clayton Carley is a member of the Singh Soynomics & Breeding group and a Ph.D. graduate research assistant at Iowa State. He earned his bachelors of science degree in plant biotechnology and ag science education from the University of Illinois in Urbana, IL.

As an NSF Predictive Plant Phenomics Trainee, Carley is investigating predictive root-shoot relationships with innovative methods of combining machine learning and high throughput phenotyping while exploring the underlying genetic components involved.

He said he is passionate about outreach and education, and has developed hands-on "Plant Breeding Games" to educate high school and undergraduate students.

Carley is serving in leadership roles through several student organizations including the Agronomy Graduate Student Club, Student rep to the Agronomy Faculty, and co-chair of the Plant Breeding Symposium planning committee, as well as community mentoring groups in his local church such as “Seed Co”, and youth group “Roots.”




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