Amid concerns for global food security and the increasing demand on crops due to a growing human population and a changing environment, a pioneering new technology is set to accelerate the global quest for crop improvement in a development that parallels the Green Revolution of the post-war period.
The current improvement rate of several important crops is considered insufficient to meet future demand on these crops. This slow improvement rate is partly attributed to the long time required for the growth of crop plants, according to a new paper published in Nature Plants on Monday.
The proposed technology called “speed breeding”, developed by research teams at the John Innes Centre, University of Queensland, and University of Sydney, could shorten plant growth time and accelerate crop breeding and aid research programmes.
Based on the new method, the team has achieved wheat growth from seed to seed in just eight weeks. This means that it is now possible to grow up to six generations every year of spring wheat, durum wheat, barley, chickpeas and peas, and four generations of canola, instead of 2-3 under normal greenhouse conditions.
The team used a greenhouse, or an artificial environment with enhanced lighting, to create intense day-long systems to speed up the search for better performing crops.
The use of supplemental lighting in a greenhouse environment allows rapid generation cycling through single seed descent (SSD) with potential for adaptation to larger-scale crop improvement programmes, according to the study.
“Globally, we face a huge challenge in breeding higher yielding and more resilient crops. Being able to cycle through more generations in less time will allow us to more rapidly create and test genetic combinations, looking for the best combinations for different environments,” paper lead author Brande Wulff of the John Innes Centre, Norwich, explains.
Wulff added that speed breeding offers a potential new solution to a global challenge in the 21st century, according to the news release by the John Innes Centre.