News - January 15, 2009


Horticulture students at Van Hall Larenstein were taught by plant researchers from Wageningen UR last semester. A success with all parties. ‘It is valuable to go deeper into the theory and to know about where the recent progress in technology lies’, said fourth year student Ma Yuanqing.

VHL students of Horticulture doing a DNA isolation test with Sjaak van Heusden, tomato breeding researcher.
There is a need for horticultural researchers, and graduates of the VHL Bachelor’s in International Horticulture & Management (IHM) are welcome on the Master’s in Plant Sciences. The small team of teachers on the IHM course were quick to approach the WUR researchers about teaching the module on plant breeding, which gave the fourth year group an idea of both the theory and the latest developments. ‘The researchers can go deeper than we can’, said VHL teacher Albertien Kijne, ‘and this is also better for recruitment, as students can see whether plant breeding interests them, and meet the university teachers.’ One of the researchers, Sjaak van Heus¬den, has taught such courses before, but he was pleased with his colleagues’ readiness to join in. ‘The collaboration with VHL went very smoothly too’, he said.

Is this an example of the added value of having VHL and the university under one roof? Kijne says, ‘It wasn’t imposed from above, and maybe that’s why it worked so well.’ An initial evaluation showed that the students, who come from China and Thailand, were enthusiastic too. Wang Shuhang had done an internship at Plant Breeding. ‘I had worked in it, but now I gained more knowledge in the lectures and understood the reasons for things.’ She hopes to go on to do the Master’s in Plant Sciences. ‘There are lots of experiments and in commercial plant breeding companies the work is mainly practical. I am a doer so that is what I like.’
The highly specialized lectures were not always easy. Take somatic embryogenesis, for example. Ma Yuangqing, who wants to go into business, says, ‘You don’t need to master all this knowledge to understand how a sustainable horticulture business can benefit from new developments.’ Van Heusden agrees with him: ‘Students don’t have to understand everything, as long as they think ‘That’s interesting – I’d like to know more about that.’

Van Heusden gave an introduction to tomato breeding in which students had to isolate their own DNA by chewing on chewing gum and then using a chemical reaction to produce a sex marker. ‘Markers in DNA are used a lot in plant breeding, that’s why we did this test’, explains Van Heusden. ‘The test was very predictable, although everyone was getting nervous before we got the results!’ joked Wang Shuhang.