Plant breeding

Plant breeding is the process of changing the genetics of plants with the objective to produce desired characteristics.

The earliest plant breeding techniques involved simply selecting plants with desirable characteristics for propagation. Later it was found that deliberate hybridization could be used to quicker develop new plant types. The work of Gregor Mendel was important to provide understanding of the ways plant characteristics are inherited. These techniques of crossing and selecting plants are still used by plant breeders world-wide.

More recently more complex molecular techniques have become available that can speed up the process of changing the genetics of a plant. Not everybody agrees on the advantages and disadvantages of genetically modified organisms (GMO).

Plant breeders may have many different reasons for breeding new crops. Characteristics such as plant size, color and taste are manipulated to develop valuable new varieties (cultivars) with higher production. Other objectives of plant breeders involve breeding for pest or disease resistance or for tolerance to certain environment conditions (heat, cold, drought, salinity, flooding, etc.).

The history of plant breeding goes back over 10,000 years when the first farmers started the domestication of agricultural plants. The oldest domesticated crops were grown in the Fertile Crescent of Western Asia, and include emmer wheat, einkorn wheat, barley, peas, lentils, bitter vetch, chick peas and flax.

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