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Breeding crop plants for the future

sunflowers veiled

30 Jan 2014

New science and technologies have transformed plant breeding into a cutting edge discipline, dramatically increasing the potential performance of crop plants. In the past, plant breeding was something of an art. One firmly based on genetics, but, nevertheless, relying on the 'breeder's eye' to select the best varieties.

The foundation of any crop lies in the breeding of the chosen variety or hybrid. Several thousand years ago farmers in the Middle East were taking advantage of their own 'GM' technology by growing new species of higher yielding wheat, developed naturally from crosses between very different grass species. Over the past twenty-five years molecular biology, genomics and bioinformatics have made numerous innovations in plant breeding.

Now useful genes can be identified and tracked through breeding programmes in a much more targeted way, saving a great deal of time.

Exciting progress can be made without necessarily using GM techniques. New and better varieties can reach farmers and growers much more quickly in response to changing needs, such adaptation to heat stress and the drive for higher yields. Population growth challenges to global food security cannot be underestimated and must be achieved in the face of climate change, resistant pests and limited land amongst other hurdles - the 'perfect storm' of targets for plant breeders.

Breeding plants for the future, a one-day conference for all involved in crop science and agribusiness will be held on Thursday 15 May 2014 at the University of Reading.

The latest research advances will be reviewed, including how epigenetic variation affecting changes in gene expression will create new breeding opportunities. Others topics will cover new genomic technologies, new targets for plant breeders, field testing of new varieties, and integrating genetic improvements with other means of increasing or protecting crop yields and quality.

Speakers will come from the universities of Cambridge, Nottingham and Reading, Rothamsted and the plant science industry. Syngenta and DuPont now have integrated plant breeding and agrochemical businesses, taking the multi-disciplinary approach all the way through from invention to the farm. Smaller specialist plant science companies will be represented by Illumina, an American company specialising in genome sequencing and NIAB, involved in developing and evaluating new technologies.

A call for offers of posters is open until 17 April. Up to three poster authors will be invited to give 'flash' oral presentations of their work.

This conference is the second in a series of events organised by the BioResources Group addressing the science and technologies being applied to increase crop yields. Find out more and book online below.

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