Plant Breeding 2 Fight Hunger

Credits: Certificate


14 Week Course Calendar ICON
  14 Week Course

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An ability to apply plant breeding concepts to improve a crop and trait of interest


An ability to evaluate the use of Mendelian and non-Mendelian inheritance and statistics in improving the decision-making power of plant breeders


An ability to evaluate how marker assisted breeding (MAB), genetic engineering, gene editing and “Omics” could improve the efficiency of the plant breeding process



The following is a brief description of the topics covered in each week. For each week, you will go through mini lessons that cover the following concepts, submit answers to weekly thought questions, submit a weekly assignment – in the form of a project related assignment, a discussion forum or a problem-solving worksheet and take a short quiz. For project related assignments, you will focus on a crop/trait/location of your choice to apply concepts learned in the course.

WEEK 1: History of Plant Breeding and domestication of crops

Plant breeders need to have a historical perspective of how plant breeding first started with a simple selective breeding process that led to the domestication of crops. Because knowing the history of plant breeding allows us to compare and contrast traits found in the wild and domesticated plants, WEEK 1 will focus on this topic.

WEEK 2: The Plant Breeding Process and how plant breeding evolved over time

This week we will focus on the four steps of the plant breeding process. As breeders select for desirable traits, they continue to reduce the available genetic variability. Therefore, we will also discuss the importance of germplasm conservation and pre-breeding.


WEEK 3: How traits are inherited: Part I – Mendelian genetics and Chi-square statistics

Mendelian genetics helped breeders to predict parental and progeny genotypes and phenotypes with confidence. In addition, Chi Square statistics can also be used to confidently predict the inheritance pattern of traits. As such, we will discuss these topics in WEEK 3.

WEEK 4: Experimental design and Heritability calculations in Plant Breeding

Statistical tools allowed breeders to predict genotypes and phenotypes with confidence, and so is a powerful tool in the plant breeding process. This week, we will do hands-on problem solving to emphasize how experimental design and heritability calculations increased the efficiency of plant breeding.

WEEK 5: Mode of reproduction in plants and their impact on plant breeding

The third step in the Plant breeding process depends on whether a plant is self-pollinated or cross pollinated. Therefore, this week, we will focus on the mode of reproduction in plants. In addition, we will discuss how Self incompatibility, Heterosis and Cytoplasmic Male Sterility (CMS) impact plant breeding.

WEEK 6: Methods for breeding self-pollinated and cross-pollinated crops

This week, we will look at methods available for breeding self-pollinated and cross-pollinated crops. We will also discuss how asexually propagated crops are bred. In addition, we will look into what types of cultivars are released to farmers in the Step 4 of the plant breeding process, and how breeders can protect their varieties before release.


WEEK 7: Review on how traits are inherited: Part II – Non-Mendelian genetics

Not all traits are inherited in a Mendelian fashion. This week we will discuss some examples of traits that are not inherited as Mendel predicted. We will also look at how Chi Square statistics can be used to determine whether a trait is inherited in a non-Mendelian fashion. 

WEEK 8: Review of genetic linkage and mapping

When highly desirable traits are closely linked, they tend to be inherited together and that was a plus. However, if a highly desirable trait was tightly linked to an undesirable trait, it was an issue. As such, this week we will discuss the role that genetic linkage plays in plant breeding.

WEEK 9: Basic Molecular Biology Techniques and Marker-Assisted Breeding (MAB) Applications in Plant Breeding

The discovery of DNA as the material of inheritance and the concept of genetic linkage paved the way for plant breeders to study agronomically important traits at the DNA level and conduct marker assisted breeding (MAB). To better understand MAB, we will first focus on some basic molecular biology techniques this week.

WEEK 10: The process of developing markers for Qualitative and Quantitative traits

Many agronomically important traits are controlled by more than one gene, meaning traits can be inherited in a qualitative (discrete phenotypes) or quantitative (continuous phenotypes) manner. MAB allow breeders to further study these inheritance patterns. This week we will discuss how to develop and validate markers for qualitative traits and quantitative traits.

WEEK 11: Use of Genetic Engineering as a plant breeding tool

Genetic engineering has become a tool in the plant breeder’s toolbox to improve crops. This week, we will discuss specific examples of GE crops including pest and disease resistant crops as well as bruise resistant and nutritionally enhanced GE crops.

WEEK 12: Regulatory approvals needed for releasing genetically engineered crops to farmers

Genetically engineered crops go through a strict regulatory approval process before they are released to farmers to grow. This week, we will discuss how GMOs are regulated in the US using a Science based approach. We will discuss how each crop/product is evaluated for safety on a case-by-case basis according to the coordinated framework that was set up in 1986 using existing laws.

WEEK 13: Use of Gene Editing as a plant breeding tool

Gene editing using CRISPR-Cas9 system is a new biotechnology tool used in plant breeding. This week we will discuss a few examples of how plant breeders are using the gene editing tool to improve crops. We will also briefly discuss how gene editing compare with genetic engineering and how they are currently regulated.

WEEK 14: Overview of Genomics, Phenomics, Machine learning & AI in Plant Breeding

Being the last week of the course, we will use this week to provide an overview of genomics guided breeding. In addition, we will also look at phenomics, machine learning and AI tools available to plant breeders.

Program Director


Cholani K. Weebadde
Assistant Professor, Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences
Plant Breeder for International Programs
Program Director, Plant Breeding 2 Fight Hunger

Contact Information

384-D Plant and Soil Science Building
1066, Bogue Street
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824

Phone: 517 355 0271 (Extension 1159)


B.Sc, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Botany, 1998
Ph.D., Michigan State University, Genetics and Plant Breeding and Genetics, 2005

Professional Development

Certificate. Digital Business Strategy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Boston, Massachusetts, USA (2018)

Certificate. Program Management for Plant Breeders, University of California, Davis, Sacramento, California, USA (2014)


Cholani Weebadde is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences at Michigan State University (MSU). She received her Ph.D. degree with a dual major in the Genetics and the Plant Breeding and Genetics programs of Michigan State University in 2005. As the Plant Breeder for International Programs, Dr. Weebadde interacts closely with MSU breeders to help expand their programs by reaching out to the global plant breeding community through initiating collaborative research and capacity building programs.

Dr. Weebadde is currently on a 100% teaching appointment at MSU and teaches plant breeding and biotechnology courses. She also teaches Biology to non-biology majors. During summer months, she continues to work on strawberry breeding with a focus on the international market. She has also established a PhD Sandwich degree program at MSU to work with research scientists globally. She is a member of the Plant Breeding, Genetics and Biotechnology (PBGB) program at MSU.

Dr. Weebadde is actively involved in plant breeding and biotechnology capacity building programs. She has offered international training programs in Marker Assisted Breeding (MAB) from 2006 – 2019. She has also mentored USDA Norman E. Borlaug Fellows from Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Sri Lanka and Tanzania. In addition, she has served as the Extension Team Lead for RosBREED, a USDA Collaborative Agriculture Project (CAP) project for enabling MAB in Rosaceae crops, as well as the Human and Institutional Capacity Building Lead for the USAID Feed the Future Potato Biotechnology Partnership Project. These programs have served as stepping-stones for initiating collaborative research and capacity building programs in Plant Breeding with a number of countries.

Dr. Weebadde has also been involved in biosafety capacity building programs and served as a member of the Biosafety Team at MSU for the African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE) Project. She has actively participated in biotechnology and biosafety capacity building programs in several countries including Burkina Faso, Indonesia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Philippines, Senegal, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Uganda.

She looks forward to bringing her over 15 years of experience in Plant Breeding and Biotechnology area by offering the Plant Breeding 2 Fight Hunger course in Summer.

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