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Blog S1E5 - Data Drama: Breeding's Behind-the-Scenes

Breed, Sow, Grow: Adventures and Challenges in Plant Breeding

Hello again! It's great to have you back for another post of our plant breeding series, 'Breed, Sow, Grow'! In our previous posts, we delved into generating phenotypic and genotypic data, essentially creating a treasure trove of information – big data. And now our trusty data scientists, bioinformaticians, and machine learning specialists are here to navigate us through the "Data Drama: Breeding's Behind-the-Scenes."

Creating big data

During the plant growth and post-harvest phases, we gather phenotypic data (e.g. plant height, yield, disease symptoms) and genotypic data (DNA-derived data), along with environmental data like sowing date, soil type, and weather measurements. This extensive and complex dataset is what we call "big data," posing challenges for traditional processing tools. To make sense of it, we need robust data management, statistical tools, and sometimes the magic touch of machine learning.

Bringing the pieces together

Now it is time to bring all the different data together. Through data cleansing and preprocessing, we handle missing values, remove outliers, and ensure high data quality. This meticulous step is crucial for accurate analysis. If the data isn't quite right, we transform it – adjusting formats, aggregating information, or creating new variables to better suit our analysis. Following this, we explore the data, uncover patterns, and gain insights using classical statistical or machine learning tools.

Data analysis using classical statistics

In classical statistics, scientists choose appropriate statistical tests and analyze data to determine the significance of observed patterns. For example, in biostatistics, this phase might involve comparing treatment groups to assess the effectiveness of a new fertilizer, examining associations between variables in epidemiological studies, or conducting regression analyses to understand the impact of various factors on biological outcomes. The focus is on making statistical inferences and drawing conclusions about populations based on observed sample data.

Big data and machine learning

Particularly for Big Data scenarios, machine learning is a modern marvel. Machine learning effortlessly handles large datasets, and uncovers intricate patterns that might elude traditional statistical methods. With its ability to automatically learn patterns and to improve continuously from new data, machine learning contributes significantly to the evolution of data analysis methodologies. Machine learning enables the discovery of hidden relationships, the identification of trends, and the development of predictive models. As data volumes soar, integrating machine learning enhances our ability to extract valuable knowledge and make informed decisions across various fields.

Communication of insights

The gained insights of our analysis need to be made understandable, e.g. by creating visual representations of the analyzed data. Graphs or charts can be used to communicate findings and to make the results more accessible to stakeholders. This allows interpreting the results in the context of the problem or question at hand, and using the insights to guide further actions.

Cultivating crop champions

On the basis of these detailed insights, researchers and breeders can now make informed decisions. Understanding the genetic makeup of plant varieties and their correlations with specific traits empowers breeders to strategically select plants for crossing. By this, they can ultimately improve desired characteristics like disease resistance or yield. This data-driven decision-making not only enhances the precision of plant breeding strategies but also contributes to the overall success of plant improvement initiatives. As technology advances, this phase becomes increasingly crucial for optimizing breeding efforts and achieving desired outcomes in improving plant genetics.

Outlook: fusion of traditional and modern methods

Exploring big data in the context of plant breeding unveils a transformative landscape where traditional data processing meets cutting-edge technologies. Given the diverse and extensive collection of phenotypic, genotypic, and environmental data, we rely on the expertise of data scientists, bioinformaticians, and machine learning specialists to consolidate the data and generate insights for breeders to act upon. In generating this knowledge, the integration of machine learning emerges as a powerful force, unraveling intricate patterns and contributing to the evolution of data analysis. The fusion of traditional statistical methods and modern machine learning technologies marks a promising era, where the marriage of data and innovation propels breeders towards more efficient and targeted outcomes in the fascinating world of plant breeding.


Stay tuned for our next episodes!

If you missed any of our previous episodes, read them here:
S1E1 - Breeding Brilliance: Unveiling the Crop Superheroes
S1E2 - Genius Genes: Unlocking Genetic Diversity
S1E3 - Phenomenal Phenotyping: The Science of Collecting Data
S1E4 - Genotyping Galore: Crafting Crops From Genetic Blueprints


Do you want to know how Computomics can support plant breeding for the future?
Check out our Climate-Smart Breeding page or contact us!

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