Agricultural Dialog - A society grown from seed - April 2012


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Seed breeding – the technique that enables us to encourage desired garden plants – ranks alongside farm mechanization, irrigation, chemical fertilization and crop protection as one of the most important innovations ever to impact agriculture and society. The science of seed breeding was not so much invented as borrowed from nature, to produce modern seeds used in conventional and organic cultivation alike

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Agricultural Dialog - A society grown from seed - April 2012

  1. 1. INFORMATION FROM THE AGRICULTURAL INDUSTRY | APRIL 2012AGRICULTURAL DIALOGUE 16 EDITORIAL Dear Readers, Seed breeding, especially today, is one of the most fascinating and misunderstood areas of agriculture. As a science it sits at the very heart of the history of agriculture species from hunter gatherers to farmers. has been at the revolutionary forefrontA society grown from seed the development of community, health, fertility and learning due to its contribution to nutrition. As such, seed breeding has always been a visible result of our ability to innovate. Future regulatory developmentsand reservoirs, in a pattern as natural as night following day. If we look even need to ensure that we continue to support innovation and growth in this increasinglySeed breeding – the technique that enables us to encourage desired In this edition of the Agricultural Dialogue we tell the story of the radical development and impact of seed breeding, as wellgarden plants – ranks alongside farm mechanization, irrigation, chemicalfertilization and crop protection as one of the most important innovations provided for society. We are hugely gratefulever to impact agriculture and society. The science of seed breeding was as ever for the contribution of our expertnot so much invented as borrowed from nature, to produce modern seeds interviewees, including Prof Dr. Jacobsenused in conventional and organic cultivation alike. at the Wageningen University and Abelardo Hernández from the Association of FruitThe evolution of plant species from one generation to the next is a and Vegetable Producers in the Region ofnatural phenomenon. No two members of a plant species are genetically Murcia, Spain.characteristics. Genetic variation can also be caused however by exposureto soil minerals, local water conditions and sunlight in a process calledmutation. Markus Heldt President, Crop Protection Division, BASF SE
  2. 2. AGRICULTURAL DIALOGUE 16 2From domestication to early breedingSettled populations started selecting and domesticating edible plants.This process of selection and unconscious cross-fertilization oflike potato, wheat, rice, cotton, apples and strawberries.purposefully exploit seed breeding techniques to develop new cropdisease resistance and low input requirements. Did you know?Induced mutation / Mutagenesis Mutation is a naturally occurring process that is part of plant evolutionradiation and chemical baths to simulate the activity of the sun, soil In nature mutations occur at anminerals and water conditions, seed breeders learned to diversify average rate of 1 per 1 million, meaninggenetic variability within their seeds more rapidly (Mutagenesis). that you need vast populations andGreater variety led to the more rapid discovery of naturally occurring testing programs to discover new traitstraits that might otherwise have taken many hundreds of plant Targeted radioactive mutation ofgenerations to encounter. alternative process for achieving new crop traits. It was motivated by a desireHowever, searching for random mutations remains a long process. we eat today is the result of mutation, including organic food. FAO estimatesDirected mutagenesis (including rice, wheat, grapefruit,Directed Mutagenesis is a generic term covering several techniques that lettuce and many fruits) have beenenable seed breeders to encourage a targeted gene mutation in a plant. developed using mutagenesisThis process, being an advanced form of induced mutation (Mutagenesis), In beer production, yeast, barleyusual genetic variability, integrating no external DNA. and hops have all been improved by mutagenesis. Seedless fruits such as grapes and oranges are another Plant Breeding - overview A naturally occurring change in Mutation Innovation is crucial to support the Intentionally induced mutations continuous development in plant Mutagenesis (e.g. through radiation or chemicals) breeding A targeted mutagenesis through molecular tools Directed Mutagenesis Plant Biotech integration of external DNAovercoming challenges like new and emerging diseases and marginalsoils, the step-by-step progress of breeding techniques has provided
  3. 3. INFORMATION FROM THE AGRICULTURAL INDUSTRY | APRIL 2012 3 About Prof. Dr. Jacobsen Prof. Dr. Evert Jacobsen is a professor in plant breeding, especially on genetic started his career at the Max Planck Institute in Cologne and graduated from the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Bonn. of Genetics of the University of full professor at Wageningen University. He was the founder and director of the Plant Sciences, which is now one of the top graduate schools in the Netherlands. Prof. Dr. Evert Jacobsen, professor in plant breeding He was the director of the department on and former research director of Wageningen Plant Plant Sciences and later CSO of the Plant Sciences in the Netherlands, discusses modern Sciences Group of Wageningen UR. plant breeding. He was a member of the Dutch COGEM techniques? and a member of the Committee onper year. Another reason is that disease resistance can be broken in honoured in China with the Nationalexisting varieties which have to be improved in new varieties which after Award on Technical Internationala breeding process become new seeds. In greenhouse horticulture, Collaboration.micro-climates because of higher humidity. Such adaptations have tobe partly formed by breeding new varieties. TIMELINEA new development in the Netherlands is the stimulation of breedingfor organic agriculture. Organic farmers are confronted with additionalproblems because of the restrictions on using synthetic agrochemicalsbe overcome by breeding more robust varieties. More breeding underthese organic circumstances needs to be done.In addition, new seed disinfection methods were developed, which arenow also used in regular seed production. In general, it can be saidthat the best varieties for current agriculture are also the best underorganic conditions. It must be stated that selection, with organiccultivation can also bring new yield potentials for current agriculture,as has recently been seen in a commercial sugar beet breedingprogram under both organic and conventional conditions.consumers?consumers refused Dutch tomatoes because they had no taste. Thistriggered quality breeding for taste, resulting in varieties of many
  4. 4. AGRICULTURAL DIALOGUE 16 INFORMATION FROM THE AGRICULTURAL INDUSTRY | APRIL 2012 4normally results in a bitter taste. However, selection reduced thisproblem with the appearance of extra-mild tasting varieties. Abelardo HernándezPlant breeding techniques also help with the potential occurrence of is a technical expert at PROEXPORT (Asso-cadmium contaminated soils where, for example, wheat is grown. ciation of ProducersHumans and livestock are exposed to such a heavy metal due to the and Exporters of Fruitsuptake into the plant and subsequent transport into the kernel which and Vegetables inis the basis of many food products. In wheat, genetic variation has the Region of Murcia,been found to reduce uptake of this compound into the grain kernel. Spain)the risk of ingestion of such compounds into our bodies. Q: What challenges does seed breeding help farmers overcome? Today, specialistAnd for sustainability? seed breeders work to improve agricultural crops, but genetic selection has alwaysA recent example is the breeding of salt tolerant wheat in Australia,which is allowing growth of this crop on more salty soils. Salinity, at means of maintaining and improving crop performance in the face of new threats. The ongoing process of breeding new strainsbreeding with Triticum monococcum as a new gene source for this trait. through the years has led to almost all crop attributes being improved and disseminatedHave we reached a point where we have enough varieties, or is worldwide in seeds. These alterations havefurther innovation a constant necessity? helped farmers to overcome diseases andVariety improvement is an ongoing need in plant breeding. Clear environmental conditions that jeopardized crop viability, as well as maximizing yieldsstatements from politicians could be a real help to prioritise the and improving food quality. One example,innovations which are needed in the short and long run. Climate amongst thousands, of the agronomicchange, sustainability, necessary yield gain, a bio-based economyand food quality improvement are a few items steering future variety development of mildew-resistant spinach.breeding in almost all crops. New developments in plant breeding arehighly needed to master future problems in order to be able to feed Q: How important is seed innovation for growers? European farmers know how toproper way. maximize the quality and yield of a planted crop, but their success will always beWhat are the drivers behind innovation in plant breeding? limited by the quality of the seeds planted. Expecting farmers to produce the biggestBusiness and science development. Competition, but also balance and best quality yields without access tobetween open and Intellectual Property protected systems is needed the best seeds would be like expecting them to produce cantaloupe melons fromfuture food production worldwide. Innovation in plant breeding is galia melon seeds. Constantly adaptingbased on science which is stimulating necessary changes. There must weather patterns and disease threats make seed innovation vital not just to improve agricultural production but to maintain it.for plant breeding. Q: Can you give us examples of when seed breeding has delivered consumer Seed breeding is the unseen driver behind all of the improvements that have been made to agricultural crops, IMPRINT creating the expansion of available varieties. There is a wide range of new products BASF SE Rainer von Mielecki bred to meet consumers desires, such as Agricultural Center Limburgerhof AP/K – Public/Government Affairs yellow kiwis, seedless watermelons, smaller melons, tomatoes that last longer, easy-to- AP/K - LI555 Phone: +49 (0) 621 / 60-27 511 peel mandarins, sweet pink grapefruits and 67117 Limburgerhof Fax: +49 (0) 621 / 60-27 512 asparagus and potato varieties that are Germany available all year round. Responsible Editor: Tassilo Galitz