EUROPEAN-SEED.COM I EUROPEAN SEED I 9 The undisputed facts are that uniformity in seed testing reduces technical barriers, the use of standardized test reports/ certificates increases transparency, and together they facilitate seed trade, and benefit the farmer. PROSPECTS AND CHALLENGES Our understanding of plant genetics, physiology, and pathology increased significantly in the last few decades. These advances were/are driven by technological innovations that have changed the ways we research plants and consequently apply the newly acquired knowledge; the rate of bringing new varieties in to the market is increasing in a unprecedent rate. These developments have a lot of promise but also present challenges that need to be considered: • Forward looking research: There is not enough research in the field of seed science and technology. In the seed industry, which is a leading entity in agricultural research, the focus of the research and development departments is on biotechnology and genetic innovation. All major seed companies are engrossed in the competition to bring to market the next new super crop and very little effort is devoted to seed technologies. In academia, the appeal of seed science and technologies is very low, there are globally too few departments that are devoted to the topic and the research money is scarce. Much of the work is left to international seed organizations (ISTA, AOSA) where there is no culture of for- ward looking research, that is, the tendency is to work on a topic only after a problem was identified. The best example from recent years is GMO testing: whereas the first commercial GMO crop made it to the market in 1994, it was only in 2013 that ISTA voted in a new chapter focusing on GMO testing and the corresponding handbook is still under preparation. A similar challenge is loom- ing presently with the advent of gene editing technologies. These technologies will challenge our present definition of a variety and the way we test and verify its identity; moreover, it will render our most common molecular GMO testing methods useless, but yet (to the best knowledge of the author), no forward-thinking effort is made to prepare for the challenges of testing gene edited varieties. • Rate of change: Part of the problem in adapting seed rules to the present speedy change of the agricultural world is the lengthy process of voting in or changing a seed testing rules. While part of the slow pace is built in and required, as each new rule or change needs to be the result of a comprehensive study and should be validated, the process of approval can be expedited. There is no need to wait for the next opportunity when all voting parties congregate to pass a new rule or modification. In this day and age, with the digital and on-line tools that are available the dynamics of rulemaking should be adapted to stay relevant and to fit the pace of the surrounding scientific and business environment. • At the intersection of the last two aforementioned challenges lies the third, and possibly the hardest one: exploring new technologies for seed testing. Although advances are made in recent years in the use of digital imaging methods for seed purity testing, and varietal, GMO, and seed health testing are employing molecular methods, the physiological tests (germination, vigor) are using methods that have been around for decades. The fit of molecular methods as a new and better alternative are not guaranteed, however, the potential benefits are measurable – yet, not enough effort is made to explore the potential and materialize it. Much of the efforts to increase agricultural productivity revolves around innovation in plant breeding and biotechnol- ogy. However, no matter how great an innovation is – it will be rendered useless if the resulting seed will not be able to make it to the market unchanged, unadulterated. As the investment in new breeding technologies and the cost to bring new varieties to market increases, so should the importance and the attention given to seed testing. If innovation is building the potential for yielding enough food to the world, seed testing is safeguarding the realization of this potential. Editor’s Note: Dr. Benjamin (Beni) Kaufman served as the Secretary General of ISTA and is a former Senior Scientist at DuPont pioneer. His career is intertwined with the evo- lution of DNA molecular markers and their applications in ag-biotechnology; the application of molecular methodolo- gies to seed quality testing, especially for GMO testing. Dr. Kaufman is open to new opportunities and can be connected by email at or through his LinkedIn page Working on the analysis of a seed sample.