Speed Breeding Lets Us Develop Six Generations of Crops Instead of Two Each Year

Combining speed breeding with gene editing and other technologies is the best way to improve crops. This will make it easier to increase crop yields to feed more people. Although we already have test fields with two to three times the yield of crops. So getting another double would be to feed more than 20 billion people.

They trick the crops into flowering early by using blue and red LED lights for 22 hours a day and keeping temperatures between 62 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. They can grow up to six generations of wheat, barley, chickpeas and canola in a year instead of only one or two crops each year using old farming methods.

Benjamin Stich, a plant geneticist at the Heinrich Heine University of Düsseldorf, Germany and his team are developing a technique called genomic prediction to fast-track the identification of tubers with desirable traits. The researchers take what they know about how various genes influence growth and yield. They input that data into computer models and extract predictions about which plants will have the best combination of genes and yield in the field.

“We can now predict many traits simultaneously, with high reliability,” Dr. Stich said. His team has used the technique to successfully predict tubers’ susceptibility to potato blight, as well as their starch content, yield and time to maturity.

With cheaper, more powerful technology, opportunities are opening up to improve crops around the world. Dr. Hickey’s team plans to train plant breeders in India, Zimbabwe and Mali over the next couple years through a collaboration with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics and grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

‘Speed breeding’ (SB) shortens the breeding cycle and accelerates crop research through rapid generation advancement. SB can be carried out in numerous ways, one of which involves extending the duration of plants’ daily exposure to light, combined with early seed harvest, to cycle quickly from seed to seed, thereby reducing the generation times for some long-day (LD) or day-neutral crops. In this protocol, we present glasshouse and growth chamber–based SB approaches with supporting data from experimentation with several crops.

We describe the conditions that promote the rapid growth of bread wheat, durum wheat, barley, oat, various Brassica species, chickpea, pea, grass pea, quinoa and Brachypodium distachyon. Points of flexibility within the protocols are highlighted, including how plant density can be increased to efficiently scale up plant numbers for single-seed descent (SSD). In addition, instructions are provided on how to perform SB on a small scale in a benchtop growth cabinet, enabling optimization of parameters at a low cost.