An introduction to plant breeding.
Simple articles that explain what plant breeding is and why it is necessary, the underlying principles of plant breeding and a number of important modern techniques that have contributed to the crops we have today.
What is plant breeding?
Plant breeding is a term used to describe the altering of plants for human purposes by controlling their breeding.
Like animals plants breed (have sex) with each other. Sex is a way for two organisms to mix their genes together. In most plants you see flowers are the plants sexual organ. Flowers produce both pollen (equivalent to sperm in humans) and eggs (equivalent to eggs in humans). Two plants breed when, after pollen from one flower lands on the part of another flower which contains the eggs, DNA from the pollen grain is fused with DNA in the egg. This fertilised egg then grows into a seed.
Photographer: S. Knapp. Copyright: Rights reserved
By manipulating which plants breed together humans can affect what their offspring will be like. By this method, over thousands of years humans have radically changed a few wild plants into the crops we use today. This is what we call 'plant breeding'
Why is plant breeding so important
Plant breeding is something we rarely stop to consider, but if it wasn't for the efforts of plant breeders and the crops that have resulted from them our lives would be very different.
Plant breeding is necessary because plants are adapted for life in the wild and not for use by humans. For example the potato tuber is a food store for the plant not for other organisms and many wild potatoes actively discourage animals from eating them by producing toxins. This trait has had to be bred out of the crop potatoes we eat.
Plant breeding is an ongoing process, as necessary now as ever. Diseases evolve to beat plant resistance and so plants need to have new resistance bred in. Human population continues to grow so we need to increase yields and looking into the future, climate changes will cause growing conditions to change and so crops will need to change to keep pace.