All plant life on this planet begins with a seed. Whether it’s a mighty oak or the wheat that feeds us -- everything starts with a seed. So, to find how we can solve nutrition and hunger problems, scientists turned to the humble to see if agriculture and farming can be improved by manipulating the very first step of the process. Especially in the current times with climate change, alternation in temperature, soil, air and so on has resulted in duress for various seeds.
Selective plant breeding can be key to creating larger and more nutritious seeds which are also more resilient to environmental stresses. The study is led by Rodomiro Ortiz and has been published in Crop Science.
While others have tried genetic engineering plants to add/remove DNA elements from plants, these methods are generally not welcomed by larger public. Ortiz’s methods, on the other hand, offer plant breeding process where one can cross-breed one plants with distinct benefits to create one individual with multiple profitable traits.
It isn’t anything new. Traditional farmers have been cross-breeding plants for centuries to create, more yielding individuals. But what’s new is the amount of information available to breeders today. Farmers in olden days had a lot of trial and error and were dependant on external features for their judgements. DNA sequencing over the years has provided a lot of information about how each plant trait differs or benefits them in different ways.
“Genome-derived knowledge of seed biology can enhance crop productivity, to improve food and nutritional supply through plant breeding,” said Ortiz.
Other than knowing a plant’s genetic makeup, their response to the environment is also an important factor in getting better plants. They use phenotyping which a process of measuring how the genetic makeup results in external features. If you remember high school biology, genetics pioneer Gregor Mendel used Punnet Squares to assess phenotypes of his various cross-breeding experiments.
However, phenotyping entire plants species in agriculture will be very time-consuming and complex. As it includes predicting what the cross-bred seed size and colour would be, how tall/short/productive a plant would be or how susceptible it would be to diseases. But thankfully, we have technology at our disposal. They used advanced digital imaging technology to predict and measure a variety of shape parameters using high-resolution images of seeds.
This helps them find the right combinations of plants to cross-breed; and hopefully, resolve food crises of the future.