AI for Plant Breeding in an Ever-Changing Climate
- How might artificial intelligence (AI) impact agriculture, the food industry, and the field of bioengineering? Dan Jacobson, a research and development staff member in the Biosciences Division at the US Department of Energy's (DOE's) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), has a few ideas. For the past 5 years, Jacobson and his team have studied plants to understand the genetic variables and patterns that make them adaptable to changing environments and climates. As a computational biologist, Jacobson uses some of the world's most powerful supercomputers for his work--including the recently decommissioned Cray XK7 Titan and the world's most powerful and smartest supercomputer for open science, the IBM AC922 Summit supercomputer, both located at the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility (OLCF), a DOE Office of Science User Facility at ORNL. Last year, Jacobson and his team won an Association for Computing Machinery Gordon Bell Prize after using a special computing technique known as "mixed precision" on Summit to become the first group to reach exascale speed--approximately a quintillion calculations per second. Jacobson's team is currently working on numerous projects that form an integrated roadmap for the future of AI in plant breeding and bioenergy. The team's work was featured in Trends in Biotechnology in October. In this Q&A, Jacobson talks about his team's work on a genomic selection algorithm, his vision for the future of environmental genomics, and the space where simulation meets AI.