Biotech Updates

Developing True Breeds of Cassava, Banana and Plantain

September 15, 2011

Breeding of staple crops cassava, banana, and plantain was given a boost with the $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Basic Research to Enable Agricultural Development (BREAD) program - a joint initiative with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the NSF. Simon Chan, assistant professor of plant biology at UC Davis, together with a team of researchers from three international research centers will be using Chan's technology in generating new and improved varieties of these crops.

Using the small laboratory plant Arabidopsis thaliana, Chan discovered a method to create plant seeds that carry only the set of DNA from one parent. This will allow breeders to immediately create a hybrid that "breeds true", in a shorter time required to create new crops with important traits such as disease or drought resistance.

"Propagating crop plants like cassava, banana and plantain as vegetative clones is a big disadvantage when it comes to storing and distributing the plants," Chan said. "Seeds are much hardier and easier to store and ship than roots or stem cuttings. Seeds are also less susceptible to viruses, and not subject to the same quarantine rules as vegetable materials," he added.

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