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Course content

The University of Illinois plant breeding, genetics and cytogenetics programs in maize, soybean, small grains, bioenergy crops, and horticultural/vegetable crops are an integral part of our efforts to develop highly productive, sustainable, and environmentally friendly agricultural production systems. The Illinois Plant Breeding Center provides support to both faculty and students involved in plant breeding, genetics and cytogenetics to produce the next generation of Plant Breeders.

Plant breeders use traditional breeding methods, genetic and cytogenetic tools to seek to:

-Improve varieties and genetic stocks for grain quality, yielding ability, and resistance to diseases and insect pests;
-Maintain and evaluate diversity of genetic stocks; and
-Develop special use varieties of species, such as soybean with improved seed composition for food use, corn with high and low protein or oil contents or perennial grasses for biofuel feedstocks.

As a Plant Breeder you will have the opportunity to make a difference in lives across the world by improving plants for food, feed, fuel, and fiber. At the Illinois Plant Breeding Center, faculty research programs include (but are not limited to):

-Bioenergy crops/Biofuels
-Nutritional aspects of food/feed
-Genetic regulation
-Stability and sustainability of production: yield, biotic and abiotic stress
-Genotype by environment interaction: genomic to field performance levels
-Climate change
-New sources of useful genetic diversity
-Improved efficiency of plant breeding systems
-Bioinformatic tool development

Specific examples of maize research includes nitrogen use efficiency, stress/drought tolerance, long-term selection for chemical composition of the corn kernel, the use of molecular markers to aid in selection for quantitative traits and to understand genetic control of grain quality and chemical composition, improvement of germplasm for disease resistance and other traits, and the maintenance of the Maize Genetics Stock Center. This research will lead to improved varieties with higher yields, new commercial uses and markets, and basic information to provide a framework for future sustained progress.

Soybean breeders evaluate and use the diversity of the germplasm collection to increase knowledge of soybean genetics, develop soybean for specific food uses, and develop improved disease and nematode resistance. Progress will lead to improved soybean germplasm and varieties that survive environmental stress and are competitive in domestic and international markets.

The small grains program focuses on development of improved varieties and parental lines of soft red winter wheat and on spring oat, combining enhanced nutritional quality with high yield and other desirable agronomic traits.

The bioenergy feedstocks program focuses on developing sustainable crops for biofuel production including miscanthus, switchgrass, sorghum and high biomass maize. Breeding programs focus on improving biomass, cellulosic composition, stress tolerance, and enhanced traits for to improve production efficiency.

The horticulture/vegetable crop program seeks innovative ways to improve nutritional quality of various crops, including broccoli and cauliflower.

Opportunities for Study
For students with an interest in science—whether in chemistry, biology, biotechnology, or another specialty--plant breeding offers unparalleled options for professional advancement.

However, becoming a plant breeder requires advanced knowledge in fields such as genetics, molecular biology, genomics, statistics, bioinformatics, biochemistry, physiology, and business—along with hands-on experience in a broad range of disciplines (including field and laboratory techniques).

Study in plant breeding and genetics leads to the M.S. degrees. A specialization in genetics is available for students interested in a broad background in molecular, population, and development genetics.

Course work and thesis research are designed to meet the objectives of the student. Research opportunities may be either field- or laboratory-oriented and range from studies of transformation to selection for and study of genetics of disease resistance in the field. Modern laboratories and a field research center located nearby provide excellent facilities for research.

The Illinois Plant Breeding Center at the University of Illinois offers more than 21 fellowships to support MS and PhD studies in crop genetic improvement. These fellowships are sponsored by corporations and private individuals, and are primarily merit-based. Each pays a 12-month stipend, tuition, fees, and health benefits. All applicants to the Graduate Program (Crop Sciences Department; specialization in areas related to crop improvement such as Plant Breeding, Quantitative Genetics, Bioinformatics, etc.) are considered for these prestigious awards.

Research Assistantships are also available. These involve half-time work related to the student’s thesis project and pay an annual stipend, tuition, health benefits, and most student fees.

For additional information, contact Wendy White, Assistant Director of the Illinois Plant Breeding Center, ([email protected]).

Faculty Research Specialization Areas
Students work under the direction of world class faculty offering a rich curriculum in genetics, plant breeding, and statistics/experimental design as well as vast resources across campus in associated disciplinary areas. For more information, go to the Illinois Plant Breeding Center website for a list of faculty and their areas of research.

Career Opportunities
Across the nation, opportunities for professional plant breeders are trending upward. With three major seed companies in the U.S. recently announcing plans to double research output in the next five years, the demand for experienced plant breeders continues to grow. In fact, the 2008-2009 Occupational Outlook Handbook estimates a nine percent increase in openings for trained agricultural scientists and researchers between 2006 and 2016.

Employment opportunities for M.S. and graduates are excellent. The demand for M.S. graduates to become assistant research station managers for commercial plant breeding companies is greater than the supply.

Department of Crop Sciences
Creative experiences are boundless when you opt for advanced education in the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois. We offer advanced degree programs tailored to your specific interests that will prepare you for enriching and stimulating careers with a spectrum of public and private organizations in a global agricultural industry.

Our graduate degree recipients hold positions of leadership throughout the world. Our degree programs provide state-of-the-science education to match nearly every interest and career aspiration in crop sciences.

Department faculty is positioned at the leading edge of a growing knowledge base in crop sciences. We are committed to providing you with a nurturing environment for personal and professional growth.

International applicants whose native language is not English must score a minimum of 570 on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Applicants who are not U.S. citizens also must submit evidence that they have sufficient financial support for their entire program of study.

Prospective students are urged to apply by February 15 for the following summer or fall, or by November 1 for the following spring. However, applications are accepted at any time; they are considered and acted upon by the departmental graduate applications committee monthly.

Financial Aid
To apply for fellowships, assistantships, and tuition and fee waivers, prospective students should indicate their desire to be considered for financial aid on the admission application form. Credentials submitted with the form are used in determining financial aid.

Students already enrolled in the graduate program without financial aid from the University of Illinois may apply for financial assistance. Demonstration of exceptional ability in their studies and/or research activities is an important criterion in selecting students for available fellowships and assistantships.

Fellowships are awarded to graduate students in the Department of Crop Sciences in recognition of superior achievement and potential. Funding comes from a number of sources, each with specific criteria and opportunities.

The Department of Crop Sciences offers part-time positions to study with departmental faculty on research, teaching, or extension activities. Research assistantships are offered based on availability of funds and space in an appropriate faculty member's laboratory. Teaching assistantships require meeting University standards of English language skills, excellent teaching potential, and competence in the area being taught.

These assistantships include an annual stipend and can be awarded at different levels of time commitment. In addition to the stipend, assistantships of at least one-quarter time carry a waiver of all tuition and most fees. These waivers are worth several thousand dollars over and above the stipend. The department will be pleased to provide current values for assistantships and waivers.





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Recipient: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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