If you visit specialty stores like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, you’ve seen new fruit come on to the market. Like a fork or raisins that taste like cotton candy. Another fruit you may not know is a relatively new fruit, the kiwi, which comes from a small, unattractive berry plant in China.
These and many other typical fruits, such as common strawberries and almost all citrus fruit varieties, are the result of plant breeding. They are known as design fruits and combine the characteristics of two plants within the same species. Synthetic fruits are usually produced from two different plant parents and by crossing to produce hybrid offspring.
What is plant breeding?
The production of crops can look like a process that takes place in a laboratory with very serious men in white coats. Although this may certainly be true from a commercial point of view, it is not the only way to grow plants.
In short, plant breeding is – the deliberate manipulation of a plant species to produce offspring with the desired properties. If that sounds scary, no. This process takes place naturally, so some plant species have different varieties, each growing well under different environmental conditions.
One plant that grows in the desert can better withstand low humidity, while another is able to cope with periodic floods or showers. This is possible thanks to countless years of adaptation through natural selection of plants.
What makes plant breeding unique is that people can carefully determine which two plants need to be crossed. In the same way, under agricultural conditions, a farmer often chooses the plants to be planted the following year, concentrating on the healthiest individual plants.
Plant breeding is one of the oldest achievements of mankind.
Plant breeding has helped farmers to produce more resistant and robust crops. This has resulted in plants that grow faster or in a wider range of temperatures and climates. And, perhaps most importantly for the food industry, it has developed more disease-resistant plants.
Which plant species can be crossed?
In general, two plants of the same species can be crossed. When selecting plants, farmers usually cross two species belonging to the same genus. For example, the very famous phantom pepper is the result of a cross between Capsicum chinense and Capsicum frutescens, two species belonging to the same genus, Capsicum.
The possibilities are almost unlimited. Just take the Orchidaceae family. More than 28,000 species of orchids are accepted. This variety is really overwhelming for a plant family. So, if you are an adventurous gardener, you might be interested in crossing your two favorite fruits or vegetables.
Vegetable production against genetic modification
You may wonder whether plant breeding is the same as genetic modification. In layman’s terms, no. Plant breeding is the natural selection of ideal plants and crops, while genetic modification involves biological modification at the cellular level.
Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are always born in the laboratory. That is why they are so controversial, including the argument that it should not be possible to patent for life (source).
Is plant cultivation safe?
Standard plant crossing is a natural process that occurs when pollen is transferred from one plant to another. It is one of the most important forms of reproduction for many plants and is generally considered to be a safe procedure.
When selecting plants for mass production, precautions are taken to ensure safe food consumption. Most plants in the world produce at least some harmful ingredients, but in very small quantities. By breeding it is possible that the new variety contains higher levels of these substances (source).
There are fewer natural forms of plant breeding, such as breeding by mutation, where different forms of light radiation or chemicals are applied to the seeds to modify the resulting plants. These methods can be more unpredictable and need to be thoroughly investigated before conducting an experiment. Here is a Wikipedia article about mutation selection.
Methods of plant breeding
Mass selection is a more fundamental method of plant breeding. Mass selection involves the visual selection of individual plants or fruits that appear to be excellent. The seeds of these plants are then used to plant the next row, which usually results in a more stable plant.
This method is simple but effective, especially for large-scale operations such as rice or other self-pollinating plants.
Another similar method, which falls into the category of mass selection, is the simple removal of crops or plants that appear undesirable. The result is indeed equivalent and perhaps more objective.
Hybridisation is a more advanced form of plant breeding and is widely used for both self-pollination and cross-breeding of plant varieties. Two genotypes are crossed, each without the desired trait possessed by the other. The aim is to create hybrid offspring greater than of the two mother plants .
The method used to achieve this goal is to carefully select two parent plants and cross them. Through this process, the seeds are transformed into a hybrid variety imbued with certain characteristics of both mother plants.
For a good example of how someone crosses a sweet pepper, watch this YouTube video by Hunga Starr
Reproduction of mutation
Mutation breeding is the process by which seeds are exposed to certain chemicals or forms of light radiation, such as X-rays or gamma rays, in order to change the properties of the plant. There is some controversy about the selection of mutations and whether or not it is a natural process.
What is cross moods?
Cross-pollination occurs when the pollen of one plant is mixed with the pistils of the flower of another plant. In nature, this normally occurs when pollen is transported from one plant to another by the wind and by insects such as bees. It is the pollen that triggers the production of seeds from a plant, from which a new generation emerges later.
First generation hybrids usually have the characteristics of both mother plants. However, future generations will tend to respond less well to their new characteristics. It may take 5 or more generations of careful hybridisation to stabilise a new species. So, if you want to use the hybrid fruit seeds of 1. If you take the 3rd generation tomato varieties (maybe you like the varieties bought in the store) and grow them at home, you might not get the fruit you expected.
Flower polishing bees
How to cross two plants
Let’s call the first a giver and the second a taker. A donor is a plant that gives part of its pollen to a practitioner. The pollen from the transmitter is placed on the beaters. This way you’ll come across two plants:
- Always use sterile equipment.
- Look for an open flower on the donor’s plant. This flower must produce pollen.
- Use a sterile container to collect some pollen from an open flower. Pollen is a very small, powdery substance that falls out of flowers. You don’t need many!
- Look for a closed flower on the winding plant. Ideally, this flower is just ready to open.
- Cut the petals with a small pair of scissors (tweezers or small scissors is sufficient) and carefully cut the stamens so that only the pistil remains in the middle.
- Use a clean cotton swab to place the pollen from the dispenser on the dispenser pad.
- To cover a pollinated flower quickly, use a small plastic bag with a label to prevent self-pollination on the plant. Labelling is important to know which fruits have been pollinated by which plants.
- The process is the reverse, i.e. it takes on roles and gives them back.
- When the flower starts to form a fruiting body, you can remove the plastic bag.
- When the fruit is fully produced, use the seeds to grow your hybrid plant!
The new characteristics of the first generation of hybrids are what is called hybrid vigour or heterosis, and this is ultimately the goal of plant breeding.
It is wise to pollinate more than one flower on a plant. This increases your chances of successful hybridization. Cross-pollination is a slow process, but the fruits of your labour can be worth it!
One of the most important factors in our plant breeding is very careful cross-pollination. Transferring pollen from one flower to another can be difficult. You want to make sure that the pestle of the receiving plant has not come into contact with pollen or other . If so, your efforts may have been in vain. So we take some precautions for cross-pollination.
Hybrid vigour in plant breeding
Hybrid Vigur, or heterose, is an improvement of the characteristics of a hybrid plant variety compared to the two mother plants. In other words, larger size, faster growth, sweeter or more spicy smell, etc. compared to the two original plants.
Plant breeding allows the farmer to choose the characteristics he wants to focus on. This is why plant breeding is so valuable (and cool for local growers to experiment with).
Really interesting varieties have been created thanks to plant breeding. In recent years, for example, woolen sugar grapes have become very popular. They are the result of the crossing of two grape varieties to obtain a unique and very sweet taste:
Another example of heterosis in plant breeding is the enlargement of apples and other fruits. There are other possible reasons for larger fruits, but in fact plant breeding can produce the desired result.
Plant breeding methods for higher yielding crops
If you are trying to grow plants with the ultimate goal of a higher yield, it is ideal to start with a plant that produces a lot and cross it with a plant that produces less. In this situation you probably have a plant that tastes great, but doesn’t produce enough fruit! This is a classic difficulty in plant breeding, and it can take generations to achieve the desired results.
Unfortunately, for a higher yield it is ideal to have a larger operation to speed up the process. If you have more places to grow individual plants, you can experiment more quickly with the resulting hybrids. More plants can also increase the chance of accidental cross-pollination, so be careful!
We hope you enjoyed this article and look forward to working with one of these plant breeding methods. Crossing two plants can make gardening much more exciting, with amazing results that you can share with friends and family.
Have you been able to grow plants in your house? Share your comments with us! We are happy with the new types of plants (especially pepper!).
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