1. What is Plant Breeding?
Put simply, plant breeding improves plants in order to grow better crops with desired characteristics. We’ve been improving plants for thousands of years – long before breeding existed as a formal discipline. Plant breeding is based on this long history of experience, and the tools that help to achieve these improvements continue to evolve as we learn more about plant biology and genetics.
2. What do Plant Breeders do?
Plant breeders specialise in the development of new plant varieties with improved characteristics. Their goal is to combine as many useful characteristics as possible in one plant. For farmers the characteristics may be disease resistance or drought tolerance. For consumers, they may include nutritional quality, flavour or appearance. For food manufacturers and retailers, they may be baking quality or shelf life.
Plant breeders make use of genetic diversity in plants to select and crossbreed those plants that combine the best characteristics. By doing, this plant breeders create ever more genetic diversity.
Today’s plant breeders integrate knowledge from a range of scientific disciplines, such as plant biology, genetics, physiology, statistics and molecular biology. Breeding programmes are often managed by teams of scientists from many different fields of expertise. To develop new varieties, plant breeders use a variety of tools ranging from cross-breeding to gene editing, as illustrated in the ISF ‘Milestones’ infographic.
Other resources include ISF and various short films produced by the European Seed Association (ESA) and the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA), which are available on their You Tube channels:
- ASTA You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCeNdXgUMZy8a8_u0ZD_yrZQ
- ESA You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8r_96zCecwU&list=PLiAdQ9-mNuGZ7zNUfTkOr7XmRK_zgRXn8
- To meet some real plant breeders and find out more about their work, have a look at these plant breeder profiles from around the world by CropLife International: Food Heroes.
3. What is meant by 'Plant Breeding Innovation'?
‘Plant breeding innovation’ is the term used by plant scientists worldwide to describe the continuous evolution of plant breeding methods.
Innovations Today’s in plant breeding are developed using sophisticated methods, including cell biology, genome and proteome research, gene mapping and marker-assisted breeding, which have led to the development of effective methods like gene editing. Although these innovations are still sometimes referred to as new breeding techniques (NBTs), AFSTA prefers the term ‘plant breeding innovation’ which is not limited to a particular group of methods or defined by them, but rather reflects the continuum of innovation in plant breeding.
4. What is CRISPR?
CRISPR is a family of DNA sequences found within the genomes of prokaryotic organisms such as bacteria and archaea. These sequences are derived from DNA fragments from viruses that have previously infected the prokaryote and are used to detect and destroy DNA from similar viruses during subsequent infections.