Fast Breeding

Plant & zo

The science of plants and more

Fast Breeding

Crops that can survive the heat, and drought. That are nutritious, but also resistant against pests and diseases. A whole list of wishes. Preferably ready by today, and if that is not possible then by tomorrow, but no later. Hooked as we are to the quick fulfilment of our desires and wishes. Forgetting that not all wishes could be fulfilled by a click with the mouse. It takes for example about 10 years to breed a new crop. And by then we can only hope that our demands did not grow even bigger.

Breeding a new crop is a game of patience. Firstly, the breeder needs to find plants that has some of the desired traits. Only then can the breeding start. With crossing of two plants with the wished-for traits. For example, a wheat plant that is resistant to a fungus with one that has a high yield.

Then the waiting starts, selecting and more waiting. Only after about seven to eight generations after the first crossing are the new traits strongly secured. They are tested in the field, and the breeder can be sure that the new crop has no surprises left for him. By then a year of 8 to 10 has gone. Each generation is a breeding season, 4-6 months. Which slows everything down.

The discovery of speed breeding gives hope for the future, with the potential of developing new crops within four years

Up till now researchers, breeders and growers always breed plants using natural conditions, or by copying them. But recently researchers found out that the generation time can be shorted by deviating from the natural conditions. By giving plants, that did not need any winter, 22 hour days. This shorted the time from seed to seed. Enabling growing 6 generations in a year, compared to the 2 to 3 generations previously.

But some plants need a winter before they flower. Now Korean, Australian, and British researchers found out how they can also shorten winter. By germinating and growing wheat and barley at 8 °C and giving them days of 22 hours, they reduced winter to 4 weeks. Allowing in a year to grow 3 to 5 generations of winter wheat or barley. Previously this was less than 2 generations a year. Making breeding crops a lot faster.

The discovery of speed breeding gives hope for the future, with the potential of developing new crops within four years. Although the breeder would still test its crop in the field, if only to check the new plant has any surprises left for us. But with speed breeding the chance that the new crop still meets our demands is bigger at least.


Cha J.-K., O’Connor K., Alahmad S., Lee J.-H., Dinglasan E., Park H., Lee S.-M., Hirsz D., Kwon S.-W., Kwon Y., Kim K.-M., Ko J.-M., Hickey L.T., Shin D., and Dixon L.E. (2022). Speed vernalization to accelerate generation advance in winter cereal crops. Mol. Plant. 15, 1300–1309.

Watson, A., Ghosh, S., Williams, M.J., Cuddy, W.S., Simmonds, J., Rey, M.D., Asyraf Md Hatta, M., Hinchliffe, A., Steed, A., Reynolds, D., et al. (2018). Speed breeding is a powerful tool to accelerate crop research and breeding. Nat. Plants 4:23–29.

Published by Femke de Jong

A plant scientist who wants to let people know more about the wonders of plant science. Follow me at @plantandzo

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