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Crop Biotech Update

Small Changes have Large Benefits for Crop Breeding

June 24, 2015

In a world first, researchers led by Professor Wallace Cowling from the University of Western Australia took a breeding model commonly used by animal breeders and implemented it in self-pollinating crops.

In plants, new varieties are ‘pure lines,' tested for several generations and shown to be superior to previous varieties. Pure lines are normally used in crossing to start the next cycle of selection. In contrast, animals cannot self, and pure lines are impossible to select. Animal breeders have developed a method of breeding that takes into account information from all relatives across all generations. The combined analysis of data across generations, as proposed in Professor Cowling's model for selfing crops, means there can be more accurate selection and shorter generation intervals with more sustainable long-term genetic improvement.

Professor Cowling said, crossing and recombination in self-pollinating crops normally occurs after selfing and selection of pure lines. In their research, they changed the breeding process to allow ‘crossing before selfing' rather than ‘selfing before crossing'. According to Professor Cowling, the method should help retain additive genetic variance in breeding populations, which is permanently lost by ‘selfing before crossing'. He added that the minor change in the practice of plant breeding has accelerated genetic gain and improved the potential for long-term and sustainable genetic improvement.

For details, read the news release at the University of Western Australia website.