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Bioscience in brief

Plant genetics and crop breeding

What is plant breeding?

Plant breeding is the process by which humans change the characteristics of plants over time to make them better crops and more nourishing food.

In its most simple form, breeding consists of selecting the best plants in a given field, growing them to full seed and then using that seed to grow further generations.

Such selective breeding changes the genetic composition of the plants over time.

The most important factor for plant breeding is genetic variation in the desired characteristic.

For example, a farmer who wants to select a plant with resistance to an insect pest will watch for the plants that survive an insect attack. Another farmer wanting larger fruits will save seeds from plants yielding the biggest fruits in the field.

The most important factor for basic selective breeding is to start with plenty of genetic variation (top diagram) and to select and multiply the characteristic of interest (bottom diagram).

As a result from breeding, most of the species we rely on for food are very different from their wild relatives.