Jeffry Sander, Research Scientist - CRISPR, Corteva Agriscience
I have four kids under the age of eight so “spare time” at this point in my life may be a bit of a misnomer. Having said that, my off-work hours are generally family time spent at home. I do see my share of the zoo, science center, library and local parks. We spend many of our free days and holidays with family and life-long friends, often in western Iowa, and on the farms where my wife and I grew up.
Tell us about your journey/career path that led you to your current role at Corteva.
I graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. While coding and computer science formed the foundation of everything I did after that, it was really just a piece of where I was going. I followed up with a doctorate in bioinformatics and discovered my real passion was solving biology problems.
After graduate school, I moved my family to Boston, where I took a joint post-doctoral position at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. I then became an instructor at Harvard Medical School and assistant in pathology at Massachusetts General Hospital. After five years in Boston, my wife and I returned to Iowa to raise our growing family and apply my experiences at Corteva. I have been at Corteva for three years now, and I am incredibly excited about where we are taking CRISPR.
What do you love most about your job?
I have spent my entire career working with computers, robots and molecular biology. One of the best parts about my job is that I now have the opportunity to move the fruits of these efforts into real-world applications. I think this is the dream of any scientist – to make a positive impact in the lives of others and the world around you.
Also, it may be cliché, but it’s all about the people. At Corteva we have experts across many diverse fields who, along with being great scientists, are also top-notch people. This means every day I get to work with and learn from people that I admire.
Tell us more about your role applying CRISPR to develop sustainable agricultural solutions.
I have a highly collaborative and cross-functional role charged with developing, implementing and managing product development using CRISPR. This includes contributing to research planning and review, implementing new production technologies and developing best practices.
What excites you most about CRISPR and what it can do for agriculture?
CRISPR represents a real step-change in efficiency and quality so that farmers get the seeds that they need to thrive in evolving growing conditions. CRISPR can improve the plant breeding process through the ability to precisely transfer a single desired feature from, for instance, one corn plant into another corn plant, at the exact place needed, in just a few steps. With traditional plant breeding methods this transfer of a needed characteristic is achieved through a series of steps over a number of years with much greater complexity.
What is the one thing you want the world to know about CRISPR?
CRISPR has the potential to positively affect every aspect of the food chain, from enhancing the reliability of the food supply to providing consumer benefits, such as promoting the production of healthier oils. These are just a few of the exciting possibilities all fully within reach, and the possibilities for CRISPR go well beyond these examples.