Transforming Agriculture, Perennially



David Van Tassel

Lead Scientist, Perennial Oilseeds

David earned his Bachelor of Science in Biology from George Fox University (Newberg, Oregon) and began working at The Land Institute immediately after completing a PhD in Botany at the University of California, Davis. He lives between Salina and Gypsum, Kansas, and considers Hong Kong his “hometown” but Oregon also has a special place in his history and heart.


What’s most inspiring about your specific position at The Land Institute?
Only a handful of other people in history have ever been given the opportunity to attempt to create a new staple food crop from scratch. The Land has always uniquely understood that such efforts must be supported for many years to have any hope of achieving success. The financial support of our donors combined with increasing interest and support from other researchers studying plant pathology, physiology, genomics and agroecology, make The Land a one-of-a kind-research organization. No other new crops programs have had both of these kinds of support.

What drew you to work at The Land?
I have always loved plants – growing them, learning about them, and harvesting produce from them. But as a graduate student, I came to see that a career in academia would likely involve looking mostly at equations and genes. Moreover, while the botanists seemed concerned about climate change, habitat loss and food insecurity, they were unable to do much more than describe the problems. I wanted to work directly with plants and do something that had a chance of creating solutions.

What would people never guess that you do as part of your role at The Land Institute?
I furtively purchase pipe cleaners of all possible colors – even the sparkly ones. I cut these into small pieces and use them to color code individual seed heads to remind me which “daddy plant” provided the pollen for that particular cross.

If you were to write a book, what would it be about?
Acknowledging that humans are deeply competitive and love the thrill of winning and beating their rivals or “the system.” Instead of pretending that we’re rational or angels, how do we divert this instinct into productive or at least relatively benign channels? How do we deal with the genetic segregation that makes some people much more driven to compete than others? Perhaps the “point” of democracy is not to produce excellent governance but to force the ultra-competitive to play a costly, time-consuming and relatively transparent “game of thrones”? Maybe we should be asking how to get the candidates to raise and spend more money.

What’s your motto / favorite quote?
Are we truly the crocodiles who look back into the abyss of time?” – Werner Herzog, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, 2011

Authored or Co-authored Scientific Publications

Agriculture and Biodiversity Loss: Industrial Agriculture
Breeding Perennial Grain Crops (part 1 of 3)
Breeding Perennial Grain Crops (part 2 of 3)
Breeding Perennial Grain Crops (part 3 of 3)
Changes in Soil Phosphorus, Perennials Versus Annuals
Increased Food and Ecosystem Security via Perennial Grains
Insights from Evolutionary Biology
Missing Domesticated Plant Forms: Can Artificial Selection Fill the Gap?
New Roots for Ecological Intensification
Pipeline for Grain Domestication
Progress in Breeding Perennial Grains
Prospects for Developing Perennial Grains
Wild Plants to the Rescue

Support the work of David and others at The Land Institute with a donation.


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