Moving MSU dry bean breeding forward

Francisco Gomez is a new researcher in MSU's dry bean breeding and genetics program

Francisco Gomez is a new researcher in MSU's dry bean breeding and genetics program

While new to the dry bean breeding and genetics program (DBBGP) at Michigan State University, Francisco Gomez is no stranger to plant breeding. 

“I am a second-generation plant breeder. My father is a plant breeder,” Gomez said. “I've always been interested in the plant sciences. Having grown up in a developing country, I really want to improve the quality of life in developing countries through agriculture.

“I grew up in Honduras, where beans are a staple. For me, this was almost a personal decision to work on this crop because I know the amount of people who rely on beans.”

The opportunity for Gomez to come to MSU and work alongside dry bean breeder and former DBBGP lead researcher James Kelly was particularly exciting.  

“When I saw the background of this program with James Kelly, it had all the characteristics I was looking for,” Gomez said. “James does innovative work. It's a very important and a historical breeding program for Michigan, but also there's a lot of international work, which really attracted me.”

Kelly has developed nearly 50 bean varieties in a career spanning four decades. DBBGP has worked in Latin America and East Africa for decades to address food security through a partnership with USAID. Kelly also has ongoing programs in Rwanda and Uganda.

Gomez said he plans to build upon the decades of work Kelly and his team have achieved and integrate modern breeding technologies. 

“My goal is to take the very strong conventional breeding program we have (at MSU) and ask, ‘Where can we use modern breeding tools here that will allow us not only to make this program more efficient, but also allow us to use our resources better and continue the breeding program for the next 20 years?’”

One of his first projects is to generate computer simulations using MSU’s current dry bean breeding program and uncover ways to make the program more efficient. 

Field studies in breeding programs can take years and extensive financial resources. Through simulations, Gomez said he hopes to determine strategies that integrate tools such as genomic selection that improve the breeding program. 

“I’m really excited to see how this new tool can help us in the program,” he said. 

Gomez believes his role as a plant breeder is to ensure dry bean producers have varieties that provide the most efficient yield and can adapt to the most environmental stresses.

“Plant breeding is defined as basically adapting a crop and making it useful for humankind,” Gomez said. “We have big challenges with climate change and population increases. Many crops, including beans, will get affected by these stresses, so we have to continuously keep adapting these crops. Plant breeding is a powerful tool to address these challenges.”

Gomez came to MSU in March of 2020 from The University of Minnesota, where he was doing postdoc research focused on soybeans. Gomez will take over the reins of the DBBGP from Kelly when Kelly officially retires in the summer of 2020.

This article was published in Futures, a magazine produced twice per year by Michigan State University AgBioResearch. To view past issues of Futures, visit www.futuresmagazine.msu.edu. For more information, email Holly Whetstone, editor, at whetst11@msu.edu or call 517-355-0123.

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