the purpose of plant breeding and selection and why it is a never-ending story

Agriculture is the foundation of society as we know it and without the domestication of plants, agriculture would not be possible. Plant domestication, which is the process of adapting wild plants for the use of humans, is arguably more successful when practiced in conjunction with crop breeding. Crop breeding occurs when closely or distantly related plant varieties are interbred in order to create a new plant variation that has more desirable genes/traits.

The most common goal of crop breeding is the improve the genetic performance of plants. As plants are the principal producer of food for the planet as well as fundamental components of medicine, clothes, and raw materials, the primary performance goal of crop breeding remains increasing yield. However, there are many other goals of plant breeding, including:

  • Adaptions to abiotic conditions, e.g. drought and salinity, and biotic conditions, e.g. diseases and pest infestation;
  • Crack resistance;
  • Improved crop quality (better taste; more protein, vitamins, micronutrients, etc.);
  • Uniform production time;
  • Homogeneous appearance.

As a result of the process of plant breeding, domesticated plants, i.e. crops, are quite divergent from their genetic originals. The gap between crop wild relatives and crops will continue to widen in response to the evolving needs of the dynamic and constantly changing environment in which agriculture exists, which provides endless challenges and opportunities for breeders. There will always be new changes to the climate. Pests and diseases will adapt to new conditions. Evolution will remain a constant. Ergo, plant breeding will remain a prominent part of the horticultural and agricultural sectors. The ways by which crop wild relatives and domesticated plants compare are provided in the table below.

Comparison of Wild and Domesticated Plants

Wild Plants Domesticated Plants (Crops)
  • More adaptable
    • will grow under various conditions 
    • adapted to their native environment
  • Able to survive without human intervention
  • Expanded resistance to specific conditions
    • drought
    • flooding
    • heat
    • shade
    • cold/hot
  • Homogeneous
    • germination
    • appearance
    • height
    • fruit size
  • Shorter growing periods
  • Seeds do not self-disburse
  • Increased quality of harvest
    • higher vitamin, protein and micronutrient content
    • better taste

see also:

the green revolution

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