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Bioscience in brief

Plant genetics and crop breeding

How do plant breeders cross plants?

In a way, conventional plant breeding can be seen as a collection of techniques aimed at bringing together good parents to generate a better crop in the progeny. A sort of arranged marriage. It is therefore essential for plant breeders to be entirely sure of whom the parents of a cross are. Crosses between breeding stocks are generally done manually. The breeder has to first remove the male organs of the flower to make sure the plant cannot fertilise itself (this process is called emasculation). This removes the source of pollen grains and prepares the female parent of the cross. The plant breeder will then deposit, usually with the help of a brush, pollen from the selected male parent into the female part of the emasculated flower. Crosses are then often bagged to prevent other pollen grains reaching the flower and contaminating the cross. If the cross is successful, the fruit develops and seeds are formed.


Cowpea flower

Researcher manually pollinating a cowpea flower

Cowpea flower with developing pod