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Bioscience in brief

Plant genetics and crop breeding

The genetic modification of crop plants has been practiced for thousands of years, and in its various forms, has provided us with all the crops humanity depends on for food and fibres.

The ancestors and wild relatives of crops often look very different, are inedible and occasionally even poisonous. The repeated selection of seeds from plants with good crop characteristics over time is the backbone of traditional breeding methods. Characteristics for selection, or traits as they are known in the trade, include improved crop quality/nutrition, taste, higher yield, earlier cropping, and resistance to drought, high salinity, pests and diseases. Traditional plant breeding relies therefore on two basic processes: recognition of natural variation within a crop and selection of the desirable or required characteristic. It is effective, and also relatively cheap, and has provided us with the majority of our major food crops, and continues to do so. The main limitation of conventional breeding is that the required characteristics may not be present in the breeding population, nor in plants that can be used for conventional plant breeding crosses.

One size does not fit all
Every farmer knows that one good characteristic does not make a good crop, and that all the traits that make a plant a good crop in one place may not be useful in another place.

Access to improved planting material is always essential: you reap what you sow. Poor quality planting material will give you a poor harvest, while good quality seed and tubers are one of the things you need for a good harvest. And a good harvest means more food on the table, and the ability to sell surplus, improving economic
development for individuals, families and communities.

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