By Scott Milligan
What do I do every day? Essentially, I look for a needle in very big haystack.
As a pepper breeder, I work to grow the best peppers possible. These peppers are vibrant, crunchy, juicy, flavorful – exactly the ones you want to find in the grocery store.
To grow these peppers, I search for the most desirable genetic characteristics. That’s where it gets tough – we have to look gene-by-gene for the best characteristics, the ones that make a pepper brighter or sweeter. Sometimes, we can try thousands of gene combinations before we hit on the right one.
You have to have patience, but it’s so rewarding to finally find that sequence that works. I call it a “WOW.”. It’s such a great feeling when I see a pepper in the store and think, “Hey, I made that!”
One of the most rewarding pepper projects I’ve worked on involves breeding for phytophthora resistance. Phytophthora is a fungal disease that can essentially kills the plant and we’ve been working to breed for improved resistance to it for at least 10 years. Like I said, you need to have patience. We’ve basically come up with the answer by cross breeding the pepper with wild peppers that we found to be genetically resistant to the disease.
We’re always looking ahead to see what we can do to make peppers and our 21 other vegetable crops better and more easily available to you. We look into the future, predict what factors may endanger a crop and work to breed in in genetic characteristics that can withstand the threat.