Creating New Possibilities

Plant Breeding

 

Innovations in plant breeding help enable more choice for consumers, while addressing the challenges facing the global food system. That’s why we invest more in plant breeding research and development annually than we do any other crop science research and development platform.

The Need for Plant Breeding

Nearly everything you’ve ever purchased at a grocery store has been improved through plant breeding. Plant breeding provides farmers with crops that are better suited for their environment and consumer preferences by making use of the genetic diversity that exists naturally within each crop family. Identifying and isolating the genetic characteristics that help solve farmers’ challenges is difficult and time-consuming. Through generations of research and discovery, plant breeding has advanced beyond selecting a parent plant simply based on its appearance. It now includes an in-depth understanding of the genetic makeup of a plant, giving breeders the ability to better predict which plants will have the highest probability of success in the field and the grocery store before making a cross.

These innovations have opened the door to new opportunities for agriculture. Understanding the genetic markers in plants’ DNA offers insight into which plants carry traits that will help them combat environmental challenges like pests, disease or drought. Some plants are better adapted to certain climates and more resistant to changing environmental conditions, improving their chance of survival, which leads to more productive harvests.

But plant breeding is not just about addressing environmental challenges. Plants can be bred to ensure higher quality and more uniformly-shaped crops which leads to a reduction in food loss and waste.

The plant breeding advances within every seed we sell help farmers continue to improve upon what they’ve done for thousands of years, even in the face of significant challenges like a changing climate, limited natural resources and reduced arable land, as well as increased consumer demands.

Plants can be bred to ensure higher quality and more uniformly-shaped crops which leads to a reduction in food loss and waste.

How Does Plant Breeding Work?

The simplest definition of plant breeding is crossing two plants to produce offspring that, ideally, share the best characteristics of the two parent plants. Throughout the history of civilization, plant breeding has helped farmers solve complex challenges while also appeasing the appetites of consumers. Even the earliest farmers understood that, in order to survive, they needed plant varieties specifically adapted to their environmental conditions and cultivated to produce the best foods to nourish their livestock and communities.

Most of the fruits, vegetables and grains that we eat today are the result of generations of plant breeding. In fact, some of the most popular fruits and vegetables originated from plants that would be almost unidentifiable now:

Carrots

Originally, carrots were yellow and purple. In the 1600s, humans began breeding them to be white and orange, and then in the 1700s they were bred to be red. Purple carrots are still grown in Europe and Asia, and red carrots are grown in China and India.

Watermelons

About 5,000 years ago, watermelons were only two inches in diameter and had a bitter taste, vastly different from the large, sweet-tasting fruit we enjoy today.

Bananas

About 6,500 years ago, humans started breeding Musa acuminate, the ancestor of the modern-day banana. Musa acuminate was then crossed with Musa balbisiana to produce plantains, a close cousin of the banana.

Corn

About 10,000 years ago, humans discovered Teosinte, which was a plant with small, thin “cobs” only 5-8 centimeters (2-3 inches) long with kernels so hard they would crack your teeth. Over thousands of years of selection, Teosinte was adapted to produce the 30-centimeter (12-inch) ears commonly grown today.

Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and kale

These common vegetables descended from the common Wild Mustard plant about 10,000 years ago.

Looking to the future

Plant breeding today involves some of the world’s most sophisticated technologies and practices to develop the plants we need to nourish our growing world and preserve natural resources. An exciting innovation that has captured the imagination of the research community is gene editing, which allows scientists to make more targeted improvements within a plant’s DNA to produce a better crop. These “edits” fine-tune a plant’s own genetic material and can result in better harvests more quickly and predictably than other plant breeding tools and practices. Academics, industry researchers and policy-makers around the world are actively discussing how products enabled by gene editing will be evaluated and managed to ensure their safe and responsible use

Learn More About Innovation at the Crop Science Division

Plant Breeding (current page)