How Do We Tailor Plants that Produce Tastier and Nutritious Food?

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Plant breeding is a branch of biology which deals with improving plant species for useful traits that bring economic benefits to the nation and its people. The practice of plant breeding is as old as agriculture since the humans started cultivating plants. In olden days, while engaged in cultivation for their survival, they continuously selected better plants and preserved them for future, a process called ‘domestication’. Tasty and nutritious food, fruits, vegetables etc. that we eat today are the result of plant breeding efforts from across the world. We are endowed with a wealth of biodiversity, which can be exploited for our benefits by special efforts through plant breeding. During earlier days, the plant selections were done more or less through an ‘artistic’ way. Over the years, the plant breeding has become more ‘scientific’ owing to the developments in plant biology.  A number of discoveries including the Mendel’s work on inheritance, Watson and Crick’s DNA etc. have greatly contributed for modern plant breeding. To accomplish a successful breeding programme, a ‘plant breeder’ must have

(i) well defined goals in mind such as high yield, high quality, resistance to diseases and pests etc.,

(ii) a sound knowledge on the crop species regarding genetic diversity, variation, inheritance, reproductive biology etc. and

(iii) expertise in the breeding methods, which may vary according to mode of pollination/reproductive system (self pollinated, cross pollinated or asexual) of the crop species. 

Some common methods of plant breeding include mass or pure line selection, hybridization and selection (pedigree, bulk, and single seed descent), population improvement (recurrent selection, synthetics, composites), backcross breeding, mutation breeding, ploidy breeding, hybrid breeding and biotechnology (marker-assisted selection and genetic engineering). Once a ‘genotype’ that has desirable qualities is selected, that will be subjected to a series of laboratory and field trials to ensure its superior performance and later will be released as a ‘cultivar’ (variety/hybrid) to the farmers. Globally, numerous cultivars have been developed in crops. A few of the notable cultivars include ‘semi-dwarf rice and wheat’ varieties, which spearheaded the ‘green revolution’ in Asia. Today, the plant breeding is effectively practiced in both public and private sectors and has immensely contributed for ‘development of seed enterprises’ and ‘food security’. 


Article by:

Kadirvel Palchamy, Ph.D.

Senior Scientist (Genetics)

ICAR-Indian Institute of Oilseeds Research

Rajendranagar, Hyderabad-5000030

Telangana State (INDIA)


Posted By : ScienceIndia Administrator
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