Impact on Seed Business
Impact of new technologies on breeding of field crops
Harold Verstegen, Viktor Korzun, Milena Ouzunova and Leon Broers
Many of the characteristics of field crops are inherited in a quantitative manner; others are more of a qualitative nature. Broad genetic variation combined with highly efficient breeding methods is the prerequisite for continuous breeding progress and developing improved varieties.
In breeding field crops, the main targets are performance u yield and yield stability u as well as a number of agronomic traits like plant height or earli- ness, resistance to biotic and abiotic stress factors, and a whole range of quality traits u depending on the crop of interest. The use of molecular technolo- gies can improve breeding processes by increasing the heritability and selection efficiency, accelerating breeding cycles or saving costs.Moreover, genetic variation can be enhanced through inducing and identifying new favourable alleles. This has already shown great benefits in various crops.
For 25 years KeyGene has been a pioneer in developing new molecu- lar tools and technologies which have repeatedly proven their potential in the professional plant breeding industry. Throughout the years, KeyGene has used collaborations with academia and industrial partners in vegetables and field crops to assess and optimize their technologies already in an early phase of development. kws – a global seed company in field crops with major breed- ing programs in corn, sugar beet and cereals as well as potatoes, oilseed rape, sunflower and sorghum – has had the opportunity to collaborate with KeyGene for more than 15 years using its services and partici- pate in technology development programs.Some of the common achievements are briefly presented here.
Male fertility restoration
Hybrid rye breeding and seed production employ an efficient hybridisation system based on cytoplasmic male sterility (Pampa-cms) and complete restoration of pollen fertility through restorer genes in the com- mercial seed. However, under unfavourable weather conditions, the amount of pollen is insufficient to allow complete pollination of all female florets. As a consequence, there is an increased risk for ergot infection. Since ergot constitutes a health risk to humans and animals, kws focused on developing breeding material to reduce the risk of infection. The strategy was to breed for increased pollen shedding ability. A source for strong restoration was found in IRAN IX, a primitive Iranian rye population, which was then used as a donor for a new restorer gene. Unfortunately, the iran ix restorer gene came with many undesirable agronomic characters. To be able to use the restorer gene in the breeding program this linkage drag had to be reduced. To remove unfavour- able dna fragments linked to the restorer gene a fruitful collaboration with KeyGene was initiated. Tightly linked aflp markers to the restorer gene have been found and specific pcr-based assays were developed. With these dna assays, it was possible to reduce linkage drag and integrate the iran ix restorer efficiently into the breeding process and consequently release the first PollenPlus® hybrid rye varieties (www.kwsgetreide.de/hybridroggen.html).
Several years ago no public data on genetic variation was available for Sorghum bicolor. snps (Single Nucleotide Polymorphism) – a class of putative markers – are a way of revealing genetic variation in an efficient way. kws investigated which technology was available to cost-effectively develop markers to be used in the young kws sorghum breeding pro- gram. With the support of KeyGene’s crops® snp discovery technology, several hundreds of validated snp assays were developed within several months. A result that has been immediately utilized in the sorghum breeding program to study genetic diversity and develop marker assisted selection applications. The crops® technology is a good example of how modern molecular technologies, combined with bio- informatic capabilities can support modern breeding approaches very efficiently even in smaller crops with limited resources.
Dr. Harold Verstegen is Innovation Manager
Dr. Viktor Korzun is Head of Cereals Biotechnology
Dr. Larry Franks is Head Biotechnology Maize/ Oilseed Rape
Dr. Leon Broers is Member of the Executive Board, responsible for Breeding & Research and Energy Crops at kws saat ag, Einbeck, Germany