Today was the first day of the North Central Regional Corn Breeding Research meeting. This is abbreviated NCCC-167. I don’t know where the R went or where the third C came from and don’t know what 167 stands for, so finding out will be my mission for tomorrow.
I hope to post details of the talks, but know I won’t even begin to have time to share everything. The most important idea I take from these meetings is that these guys know their stuff and that they really care about their work. All of the problems in agriculture, from the nuances of molecular biology and genomics to big picture issues like intellectual property and subsidies, is on their minds. Even more so on their minds are the real problems facing the world, such as

  • how can crop breeders help Asia to feed its people?
  • how can we produce energy from crops without worsening the problems of nitrogen runoff?
  • how can we maintain and utilize biodiversity?

I read a lot of blogs about food, farming, and environment. Often, the bloggers seem to think that scientists aren’t doing anything about the big problems. Anyone who feels this way should come to one of these meetings and just listen to the participants chat during the “social hour”. You’d be amazed at how the conversation bounces from in depth science to throwing around cool facts (did you know C4 photosynthesis evolved separately 45 times) to deep conversations about how we’re going to feed the world while trying to not mess it up too badly. We’re conscious of the problems of big ag, IP, and the rest. And, we admit that we’re not all that great about communicating our ideas or our work to the public. I hope that’s where Genetic Maize and other science blogs come in.
One last thing before I sign off – To answer the big questions and solve the big problems, we need funding. Peter Peterson, professor emeritus at Iowa State, remarked that he used to have multiple big agency grants all at once, but now researchers must scramble to get one. President Obama’s commitment to science was mentioned a few times in conversation – my general impression is that the researchers are hopeful.
And now I am off to sleep, need to be up bright and early to help register participants in the morning!

Check out the update to this post here.