A time for speed breeding

Speed-up plant breeding

Cropping
Senior Research Fellow, University of Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, Doctor Lee Hickey, examines plants growing in the speed breeding facility.

Senior Research Fellow, University of Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, Doctor Lee Hickey, examines plants growing in the speed breeding facility.

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Speeding up breeding varieties of grain plants may combat drought and heat crop loss.

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A TECHNIQUE to speed-up plant breeding to deliver more tolerant varieties in crops for farmers to combat drought and heat increases from climate change is now available to researchers.

Plant speed breeding could be part of the solution and accelerate variety breeding, according to University of Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation senior research fellow, Dr Lee Hickey.

“It can take up to 20 years to develop an improved crop variety, but the speed breeding technique can slash this time because it enables growing up to six plant generations in a single year, rather than just one in the field,” Dr Hickey said.

“This technique works for a range of crops like wheat, barley, chickpea and canola, and uses specially modified glasshouses fitted with LED lighting to grow plants under extended photoperiods – accelerating crop research and the development of more robust plant varieties through rapid cross breeding and generation advance.

“With scientists from the John Innes Centre in the United Kingdom, we’ve now taken the next step in our research and developed the protocols to scale-up speed breeding to large glasshouse facilities as well as instructions on how to build our own low-cost speed breeding cabinet.”

Dr Hickey said information on speed breeding had been in high demand, so by sharing our protocols it meant researchers and plant breeders around the world could help tackle the impacts of climate change by accelerating their research or development of better crops, even on a shoestring budget.

“Climate change is presenting a huge challenge for food production globally – currently many farmers in Australia and Europe are experiencing severe crop losses due to drought and heat,” Dr Hickey said.

With extreme weather expected to be more common in the future, there is a need to develop drought-resistant and more tolerant varieties of crops such as wheat, barley, oats, canola and chickpea rapidly.

John Innes Centre wheat scientist, Dr Brande Wulff, said the international team’s protocols could be adapted by researchers to work in vast glass houses or in scaled-down inexpensive desktop growth chambers.

“We built a miniature speed breeding cabinet with bits and pieces we got off the internet and it was very cheap,” he said.

“We know that more and more institutes across the world will be adopting this technology and by sharing these protocols we are providing a pathway for accelerating crop research.”

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