Along with grant applications, administrative duties, publishing and hands-on research duties, scientists in agricultural research have the monumental job of disseminating vital information to stakeholders, policymakers and the general public.
During its annual meeting on June 16, the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) recognized Wayne Parrott, professor in the University of Georgia Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, with a distinguished service award for his research and communication contributions to the plant breeding industry.
“Wayne is one of the outstanding scientists we have in the Institute for Plant Breeding, Genetics and Genomics as well as the interim director of the Center for Applied Genetic Technologies,” said Allen Moore, associate dean for research in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES). “Alongside his extensive research accomplishments, he is also a talented communicator of science. I am delighted that ASTA recognized his contributions in educating the public and government on the science and value of modern genetics and genomics needed to produce sustainable crops.”
Parrott’s efforts in addressing current plant breeding regulations and testimonials before Congress and federal regulators were an impetus for the award.
“Science communication is more important now than ever, particularly when it comes to implementing public policy,” said Parrott, who is also a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and UGA Distinguished Research Professor. “We have expert regulators, but they cannot be experts across the board. Thus, it is incumbent on scientists to provide them with the right information.”
Since coming to UGA in 1988, Parrott's laboratory has served as an international flagship for genetic research in soybeans and other crops. He's spent nearly three decades developing new soybean varieties and researching the human and environmental safety of genetically modified crops.
U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations on agricultural biotechnology have been limiting, as they were based on science that was 40 years out of date, according to Parrott.
“These rules have been recently revised, which should facilitate research and investment in the field. I fully expect there will be many new career opportunities that will materialize and help farmers out in the process.”
Methods like CRISPR, a tool for editing genomes, make the improvement process for crops much easier and more efficient.
“For this technology to deliver on its promise, it is important that both the public and regulators understand the risks — or lack thereof — that are involved. And this information needs to get out all over the world because things are so interconnected these days,” Parrott said.
Parrott and other scientists work together to develop and deliver critical data, but national organizations like ASTA are important to help support them.
“It can be really daunting for a single person to try and be heard in a big, wide world. Networking with as many colleagues as possible and with organizations like ASTA helps amplify the message,” said Parrott.
To learn more about the Institute for Plant Breeding, Genetics and Genomics at UGA, visit plantbreeding.caes.uga.edu.