Information is one of the most important assets for plant science R&D organizations. They strive to secure and valorize their knowledge on materials, and their research expertness... And it's not trivial: it involves huge amounts of heterogeneous data, and sensible processes shared at various levels of every department.
What are the particularity of plant science R&D information? What best practices put in place to valorize and secure it? What tools researchers rely on to handle it?
Germplasm at the heart of plant science R&D information
Germplasm is the keystone of seed companies and agricultural public research institutions². It consists in genetic resources, composed of living material and information on its specificities and potential. This important source of genetical diversity contains some traits that may contribute to food security in the future. For instance, some cultivar are resistant to a potential crop disease epidemy, or adaptated to specific environmental constraints, crucial when climate changes.³
The living part of germplasm consists in a collection of seeds. This physical storage of germplasm seeds is constantly in evolution. It requires seed stock management to monitor warehouse inventories and replanting operations. A strong information system enables to manage efficiently these evolutions, with codification of identifiers, inventory and warehouse management tools.
The value of germplasm information depends on its qualification. A whole lot of heterogeneous information characterize every cultivar, either phenotypic (traits, yield, precocity…) or genotypic data (pedigree, sequencing information, genomic maps…).
“ Germplasm is our most important asset and the lifeblood of Pioneer ” Says Rick McConnell, Pioneer senior VP and R&D director 1.
Quality of plant science R&D information
Plant science R&D information can be aggregated for easier reading, but the less aggregated it is the best it describes germplasm and is valuable for the research department and for the organization. For instance, it is valuable to know which traits (resistance, color, size…) characterize a cultivar, but even more accurate to know how it behaves on specific environmental conditions (climate, soil, production protocol…).⁴
Then it is useful to compare its past performances with other cultivars, elite lines and testers. And even less aggregated is the raw data of all notations and all environmental data of the history of this material. The quality of germplasm qualification depends on the way data is collected, stored, aggregated and how it can be queried.
“ Information is not knowledge ” Albert Einstein.
Valorize and secure research knowledge
A research department is overall people running elaborate processes and taking complex decisions to create innovative products. Researchers have much to gain in collaborating efficiently: “One of the major success factors in R&D teams is that […] knowledge becomes a collective asset helping to fulfill the team mission”.⁵
Collaborative work lies upon structuring information and knowledge, for instance by using a common material and ontology codification, or by describing process methods. Knowledge management benefits to know-how transfer, notably accelerating new co-worker integration and limiting the loss when a researcher leaves.
Defining a unified vocabulary enhances also all discussions within the team. At Doriane we have noticed that after using RnDExp® for a few months, all the breeding team gets used to the plant breeding software’s dictionary, and reckon they save time using “stock levels” to describe their materials and “protocols” for their processes!
“ One of the major success factors in R&D teams is that the knowledge acquired by the individuals in the team surpasses individual intelligence ” Civelek, M.E.
Secure and valorize information is a major insight for plant research departments. They have much to gain in enhancing their germplasm qualification and integrating most of their breeding and testing processes in a central research system. Doriane delivers its expertise in IT and agronomy through an suite of software that integrates:
- R&D processes management
- Storage and traceability of all information
- Field monitoring tools to support daily experimentation
- Data analysis tools for decision-making assistance
- Reporting tools to communicate results and share with partners
Unify and integrate information management in a plant breeding and testing software such as RnDExp® provides all actors of the plant research with tools to handle their work processes securely and efficiently. It enables to work in real time, enhances the sharing of best practices, encourages collaboration, increases reactivity and helps taking decisions. In a nutshell, an integrated research IT system secures and valorizes data and the work of researchers.
1- “Germplasm is our most important asset and the lifeblood of Pioneer.” Says Rick McConnell, Pioneer senior vice president and director of research in 1999 Wallace’s Farmer Vol. 124 N°1-8, Wallace.
2- “The strongest assets of public research institutions tend to be their germplasm, variety assessment infrastructure and (in the stronger NARS) the capacity to conduct upstream research.” The State of Food and Agriculture 2003-04, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, FAO agriculture series, 2004, FAO.
3- “Interrelationships between the conservation of crop genetic resources and their sustainable use in plant breeding and as seed and propagating material. Genetic vulnerability has been described as “the condition that results when a widely planted crop is uniformly susceptible to a pest, pathogen or environmental hazard as a result of its genetic constitution, thereby creating a potential for widespread crop losses” (National Academy of Sciences, 1972, cited in FAO, 1996a).
4- “The market price of germplasm is not an appropriate indicator of the value, because it does not normally reflect in full all of the actual or potential kinds of benefits derivable from a genetic material: specifically, benefits from current use, benefit from future use options, and benefit from existence per se.” states Robert Eugene Evenson, professor emeritus of economics at Yales University in Agricultural values of Plant Genetic Resources, Evenson, R.E. and Gollin, D. and Santaniello, V., CABI Publishing Series, 1998, CAB International.
5- One of the major success factors in R&D teams is that the knowledge acquired by the individuals in the team surpasses individual intelligence and this knowledge becomes a collective asset helping to fulfill the team mission” (Grant, 1996; Moorman and Miner, 1998) in Civelek, M.E. and co., Key Factors of sustainable Firm Performance, 2015, Zea Books.
(a) image credit: https://www.irri.org/international-rice-genebank/
(b) Image credit: https://cropgenebank.sgrp.cgiar.org/
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