Plant breeding is the application of genetics and related sciences to improve cultivated plant species. It is used to develop new varieties of agronomic, vegetable, horticultural, and ornamental crops that better meet the needs of modern living. At Cornell and other institutions, research is conducted to produce more and better food and ornamental products economically and efficiently. Some examples of improvements that likely will occur through plant breeding and biotechnology research follow:
- Plants will have more resistance to nematodes and to diseases caused by bacteria, fungi, and viruses.
- Crops will be bred with increased tolerance to environmental stresses such as heat, cold, salt, drought, excess moisture, and soil acidity.
- Food value of crops will improve because of larger concentration of high-quality proteins, vitamins, and minerals and because of improved storage capability.
- Insect predation will be controlled by removing from plants the chemical signals that attract insects or by giving plants the ability to produce their own natural repellants or chemicals to entrap insects.
- Food productivity of plants will increase because of improved efficiency of physiological processes.
- Food crops will be developed with tolerance to broad-spectrum herbicides, allowing for better weed control.
A B.S. degree in plant breeding provides a student with:
- Preparation for pursuing advanced degrees in plant breeding and plant genetics. (Careers in directing or leading plant breeding research usually require an advanced degree.)
- Preparation for careers in:
- support industries that supply seed and other genetic materials for agriculture and horticulture
- public (federal or state) research programs
- agencies that regulate and enforce standards for quality control during seed production and marketing
- agricultural extension, which advises growers on advances in breeding improvement
- international programs to improve agriculture in developing countries
Courses and Academic Opportunities
In cooperation with an advisor, each student plans a course curriculum of basic and applied sciences best suited to his or her individual goals. Because plant breeders work with diverse traits, courses to provide a broad background in the plant sciences and other fields are recommended. Examples include plant biology, plant pathology, entomology, plant physiology, organic chemistry and biochemistry, soils, plant anatomy, plant taxonomy, etc.
Plant breeding courses available to undergraduates can be found under departmental courses.
In addition to these options, the student may wish to focus on courses to familiarize him/herself with particular types of plants, such as field, vegetable, horticultural, or pomological species, or in desirable changes, such as resistance to diseases and insects. Courses pertaining to these areas can be found in the listings of the following departments.
Students are taught in lectures and laboratories by faculty who are professionals and conduct research in varietal development, tissue culture, gene mapping, biochemical mechanisms, etc. Summer work experience on the various plant breeding projects often is available for students majoring in plant breeding. In addition, part-time work is available in the laboratories and greenhouses during the academic year. Active work experience in plant breeding research provides opportunity to evaluate academic and career goals. First-hand experience in research is encouraged through availability of internships and independent research projects for credit.
Students enter the Plant Breeding specialization as either freshman or transfer students. Students currently enrolled as freshman or sophomores at other institutions and who are considering transferring to Cornell are encouraged to satisfy as many of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences distribution requirements as possible before transferring. Please contact the Office of Admissions for information regarding specific course requirements for transfer admission.
If you would like to know more about the career and academic opportunities available in plant breeding, please contact:
Dr. Mark E. Sorrells
Department of Plant Breeding and Biometry
241 Emerson Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853-1901
Phone: (607) 255-2180
Fax: (607) 255-6683
For information on the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences undergraduate admissions, you may write the Office of Admissions: (Roberts Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853), or check the following web pages:
Request for admissions application also may be made through contacting CALS Admissions.
Although interviews are not required, we encourage you to visit the college and attend an admissions information conference. Conferences and tours can be arranged by calling the office at 607-256-2036.