In 10,000 years, humans have made astonishing progress using technology. (If you’re reading this on a computer in an air-conditioned room, you’re probably already well aware of that fact.)
But, if you need further proof of human improvement, consider communication. We’ve gone from chiseling words on stone tablets to sending instant messages on smart tablets.
And then there’s transportation. From the invention of the wheel to mankind’s giant leap to the moon, we’ve steadily sought to conquer time and space.
Finally, think about the many advances in crop cultivation. We’ve gone from planting, tending and harvesting crops with manpower, to horse (or oxen or mule) power, and now mechanical power with GPS and precision technologies.
Constant improvement is in our DNA. And, thanks to continuous innovations in plant breeding, it’s in our plants’ DNA, too—literally.
For millennia, we have developed increasingly more helpful, healthful and fruitful plant varieties, cultivating our knowledge of genetics and developing more precise, efficient plant breeding methods along the way.
From domestication of wild species to hybridization to today’s targeted, gene-specific breeding methods, we’ve used an evolving set of tools to improve the taste, nutrition, productivity and quality of the world’s crops.
It’s human nature: take the best, and make it better. Just as early humans saved and cultivated seeds from wild plants that exhibited the most desirable characteristics, modern plant scientists build on and improve existing genetic knowledge and breeding methods.
Today’s farmers face many deep-rooted challenges—climate change, soil infertility, droughts and plant pests, to name a few. But, increasingly, scientists are searching for solutions in seeds. Using genetic technologies and genome mapping, researchers can identify the inherent genes that help plants adapt and thrive under changing environmental conditions.
Through modern precision breeding methods, scientists can pinpoint exact genes in a plant species that are linked to disease resistance, drought tolerance, enhanced nutrition and other desirable qualities. After identifying those genes, they can edit a plant’s genome to include those characteristics.
Using these targeted methods, scientists can generate plants that require fewer pesticides. They can develop varieties that produce higher yields on fewer fields, an important consideration as populations grow and arable land shrinks. Using modern methods, scientists can make these advances in a fraction of the time required by previous breeding practices, allowing farmers to keep up with the constantly changing demands of thirstier soils and a hungrier planet.
And, ultimately, that’s the goal of plant breeding innovation—better seed for a better quality of life.
Follow along on the plant breeding journey to discover how the evolution of better science brings us better seed, and along with it, more nutritious food, a healthier environment, and more sustainable farming practices.