Thursday, July 18, 2024
General Agriculture

History and Importance of Plant Breeding

Plant breeding is the art and science of changing the genetics of plants in order to produce desired characteristics. Plant breeding can be accomplished through many different techniques ranging from simply selecting plants with desirable characteristics for propagation, to more complex molecular techniques.

Plant breeding has been practiced for thousands of years, since near the beginning of human civilization.

It is now practiced worldwide by individuals such as gardeners and farmers, or by professional plant breeders employed by organizations such as government institutions, universities, crop- specific industry associations or research centres.

History and Developments of Plant Breeding

History and Importance of Plant Breeding

Intra-specific hybridization within a plant species was demonstrated by Charles Darwin and Gregor Mendel, and was further developed by geneticists and plant breeders.

In the United Kingdom in the 1880s, it was the pioneering work of Gartons Agricultural Plant Breeders.

In the early 20th century, plant breeders realized that Mendel’s findings on the non-random nature of inheritance could be applied to seedling populations produced through deliberate pollinations to predict the frequencies of different types.

From 1904 to World War II in Italy Nazareno Strampelli created a number of wheat hybrids. His work allowed Italy to increase hugely crop production during the so called “Battle for Grain” (1925–1940) and some varieties was exported in foreign countries, as Argentina, Mexico, China and others.

After the war, the work of Strampelli was quickly forgotten, but thanks to the hybrids he created, Norman Borlaug was able to move the very first steps of the Green Revolution.

In 1908, George Harrison Shull described heterosis, also known as hybrid vigor. Heterosis describes the tendency of the progeny of a specific cross to outperform both parents.

The detection of the usefulness of heterosis for plant breeding has led to the development of inbred lines that reveal a heterotic yield advantage when they are crossed. Maize was the first species where heterosis was widely used to produce hybrids.

By the 1920s, statistical methods were developed to analyze gene action and distinguish heritable variation from variation caused by environment.

In 1933, another important breeding technique, cytoplasmic male sterility (CMS), developed in maize, was described by Marcus Morton Rhoades.

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CMS is a maternally inherited trait that makes the plant produce sterile pollen. This enables the production of hybrids without the need for labour intensive detasseling.

These early breeding techniques resulted in large yield increase in the United States in the early 20th century. Similar yield increases were not produced elsewhere until after World War II, the Green Revolution increased crop production in the developing world in the 1960s.

After the World War II, a number of techniques were developed that allowed plant breeders to hybridize distantly related species, and artificially induce genetic diversity.

When distantly related species are crossed, plant breeders make use of a number of plant tissue culture techniques to produce progeny from otherwise fruitless mating.

Interspecific and intergeneric hybrids are produced from a cross of related species or genera that do not normally sexually reproduce with each other. These crosses are referred to as Widecrosses. For example, the cereal triticale is a wheat and rye hybrid.

The cells in the plants derived from the first generation created from the cross contained an uneven number of chromosomes and as result was sterile. The cell division inhibitor colchicine was used to double the number of chromosomes in the cell and thus allow the production of a fertile line.

Failure to produce a hybrid may be due to pre- or post-fertilization incompatibility. If fertilization is possible between two species or genera, the hybrid embryo may abort before maturation.

If this does occur the embryo resulting from an interspecific or intergeneric cross can sometimes be rescued and cultured to produce a whole plant. Such a method is referred to as Embryo Rescue.

This technique has been used to produce new rice for Africa (NERICA), an interspecific cross of Asian rice (Oryzasativa)and African rice (Oryzaglaberrima).

Hybrids may also be produced by a technique called protoplast fusion. In this case protoplasts are fused, usually in an electric field. Viable recombinants can be regenerated in culture.

Chemical mutagens like Ethyl Methyl Sulphonate and Di Methyl Sulphonate, radiation and transposons are used to generate mutants with desirable traits to be bred with other cultivars in a process called Mutation Breeding.

Classical plant breeders also generate genetic diversity within a species by exploiting a process called somaclonal variation, which occurs in plants produced from tissue culture, particularly plants derived from callus. Induced polyploidy, and the addition or removal of chromosomes using a technique called chromosome engineering may also be used.

 Plant Breeding

When a desirable trait has been bred into a species, a number of crosses to the favored parent are made to make the new plant as similar to the favored parent as possible.

Returning to the example of the mildew resistant maize being crossed with a high-yielding but susceptible maize, to make the mildew resistant progeny of the cross most like the high-yielding parent, the progeny will be crossed back to that parent for several generations.

This process removes most of the genetic contribution of the mildew resistant parent. Conventional or classical breeding is therefore a cyclical process.

With conventional breeding techniques, the breeder does not know exactly what genes have been introduced to the new cultivars. Some scientists therefore argue that plants produced by these methods should undergo the same safety testing regime as genetically modified plants.

There have been instances where plants bred using conventional techniques have been unsuitable for human consumption, for example the poison solanine was unintentionally increased to unacceptable levels in certain varieties of potato through plant breeding. New potato varieties are often screened for solanine levels before reaching the marketplace

Importance of Plant Breeding

History and Importance of Plant Breeding

It is believed that breeding new crops is important for:

Ensuring food security by developing new varieties that are higher-yielding, resistant to pests and diseases, drought-resistant or regionally adapted to different environments and growing conditions and that have uniformity in maturity time and other desirable qualities.

Plant breeding in certain situations may lead to the domestication of wild plants. Domestication of plants is an artificial selection process conducted by humans to produce plants that have more desirable traits than wild plants, and which renders them dependent on artificial (usually enhanced) environments for their continued existence.

The practice is estimated to date back to about 9,000-11,000 years. Many crops in present day cultivation are the result of domestication in ancient times, about 5,000 years ago.

In the past, domestication took a minimum of about 1,000 years and a maximum of about 7,000 years. Today, all of our principal food crops are products of domesticated varieties.

Almost all the domesticated plants used today for food and agriculture were domesticated in centres of origin that have been identified as centres that host a great diversity of closely related crop wild plants or relatives, which today can also be used for improving modern cultivars by plant breeding.

A plant whose origin or selection is due primarily to intentional human activity is called a cultigen, and a cultivated crop species that has evolved from wild populations due to selective pressures from traditional farmers is called a landrace.

Landraces, which can be the result of natural forces or domestication, are plants (or animals) that are ideally suited to a particular region or environment.

An example are the landraces of rice, Oryzasativasubspecies indica, which was developed in South Asia, and Oryzasativa subspecies japonica, which was developed in China and subspecies glaberrimawhich is the African rice.

Conventional Plant Breeding

Conventional or Classical plant breeding uses deliberate interbreeding (crossing) of closely or distantly related individuals to produce new crop varieties or lines with desirable properties.

Plants are crossbred to introduce traits/genes from one variety or line into a new genetic background. For example, a mildew-resistant maize Zeamays may be crossed with a high-yielding but susceptible maize, the goal of the cross being to introduce mildew resistance without losing the high-yield characteristics.

Progeny from the cross would then be crossed with the high-yielding parent to ensure that the progeny were most like the high-yielding parent in a process called backcrossing.

The progeny from that cross would then be tested for yield and mildew resistance and high-yielding resistant plants would be further developed. Plants may also be crossed with themselves to produce inbred varieties for breeding.

Classical breeding relies largely on homologous recombination between chromosomes to generate genetic diversity.

The classical plant breeder may also makes use of a number of in vitro techniques such as protoplast fusion, embryo rescue or mutagenesis to generate diversity and produce hybrid plants that would not exist in nature.

Traits that breeders have tried to incorporate into crop plants in the last 100 years include:

1. Increased quality and yield of the crop

2. Increased tolerance of environmental pressures (salinity, extreme temperature, drought)

3. Resistance to viruses, fungi and bacteria

4. Increased tolerance to insect pests

5. Increased tolerance of herbicides

Modern Plant Breeding

Modern plant breeding may use techniques of molecular biology to select, or in the case of genetic modification, to insert, desirable traits into plants.

Modern facilities in molecular biology has converted classical plant breeding to molecular plant breeding

Marker Assisted Selection

Sometimes many different genes can influence a desirable trait in plant breeding. The use of tools such as molecular markers or DNA fingerprinting can map thousands of genes.

This allows plant breeders to screen large populations of plants for those that possess the trait of interest. The screening is based on the presence or absence of a certain gene as determined by laboratory procedures, rather than on the visual identification of the expressed trait in the plant.

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Reverse Breeding and Doubled Haploids (DH)

A method for efficiently producing homozygous plants from heterozygous starting plants which has all desirable traits.

This starting plant is induced to produce doubled haploid from haploid cells, and later on creating homozygous/doubled haploid plants from those cells.

While in natural offspring genetic recombination occurs and traits can be unlinked from each other, in doubled haploid cells and in the resulting DH plants recombination is no longer an issue.

There, a recombination between two corresponding chromosomes does not lead to un-linkage of alleles or traits, since it just leads to recombination with its identical copy. Thus, traits on one chromosome stay linked.

Selecting those offspring having the desired set of chromosomes and crossing them will result in a final F1 hybrid plant, having exactly the same set of chromosomes, genes and traits as the starting hybrid plant.

The homozygous parental lines can reconstitute the original heterozygous plant by crossing, if desired even in a large quantity.

An individual heterozygous plant can be converted into a heterozygous variety (F1 hybrid) without the necessity of vegetative propagation but as the result of the cross of two homozygous/doubled haploid lines derived from the originally selected plant.

Genetic Modification

Genetic modification of plants is achieved by adding a specific gene or genes to a plant, or by knocking down a gene with RNAi, to produce a desirable phenotype.

The plants resulting from adding a gene are often referred to as transgenic plants. If for genetic modification genes of the species or of a crossable plant are used under control of their native promoter, then they are called cisgenic plants.

Genetic modification can produce a plant with the desired trait or traits faster than classical breeding because the majority of the plant’s genome is not altered.

To genetically modify a plant, a genetic construct must be designed so that the gene to be added or removed will be expressed by the plant. To do this, a promoter to drive transcription and a termination sequence to stop transcription of the new gene, and the gene or genes of interest must be introduced to the plant.

A marker for the selection of transformed plants is also included. In the laboratory, antibiotic resistance is a commonly used marker: Plants that have been successfully transformed will grow on media containing antibiotics; plants that have not been transformed will die.

In some instances markers for selection are removed by backcrossing with the parent plant prior to commercial release.

The construct can be inserted in the plant genome by genetic recombination using the bacteria Agro-bacterium tumefaciens or A. rhizogenes, or by direct methods like the gene gun or microinjection.

Using plant viruses to insert genetic constructs into plants is also a possibility, but the technique is limited by the host range of the virus.

For example, Cassava mosaic virus (CMV) only infects cassava and related species. Another limitation of viral vectors is that the virus is not usually passed on to the progeny, so every plant has to be inoculated.

The majority of commercially released transgenic plants are currently limited to plants that have introduced resistance to insectpests and herbicides. Insect resistance is achieved through incorporation of a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis(Bt) that encodes a protein that is toxic to some insects.

For example, the cotton bollworm, a common cotton pest, feeds on Bt cotton it will ingest the toxin and die. Herbicides usually work by binding to certain plant enzymes and inhibiting their action.

The enzymes that the herbicide inhibits are known as the herbicides targetsite. Herbicide resistance can be engineered into crops by expressing a version of target site protein that is not inhibited by the herbicide.

This is the method used to produce glyphosate resistant crop plants. Genetic modification of plants that can produce pharmaceuticals (and industrial chemicals), sometimes called pharma crops, is a rather radical new area of plant breeding.

Read Also : Degradation and Metabolism of Pesticides in Plants


Benadine Nonye is an agricultural consultant and a writer with several years of professional experience in the agriculture industry. - National Diploma in Agricultural Technology - Bachelor's Degree in Agricultural Science - Master's Degree in Science Education - PhD Student in Agricultural Economics and Environmental Policy... Visit My Websites On: 1. - Your Comprehensive Practical Agricultural Knowledge and Farmer’s Guide Website! 2. - For Effective Environmental Management through Proper Waste Management and Recycling Practices! Join Me On: Twitter: @benadinenonye - Instagram: benadinenonye - LinkedIn: benadinenonye - YouTube: Agric4Profits TV and WealthInWastes TV - Pinterest: BenadineNonye4u - Facebook: BenadineNonye

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