Breeding Tech Tools
Like our planting and harvest monitors, corn breeding technologies today improve the speed, accuracy (reliability) and cost of identifying, developing and delivering improved genetics to your farm gate. In this article, I’ll try to briefly describe a few of the most widely used tech tools in developing Latham Hybrids. Like electronic tools, they can be a distraction standing alone, but when linked together into a systematic process they create a powerful platform for continuous improvement.
Unlike traditional methods, “Dihaploid Breeding” (DH) creates homozygous (genetically fixed) male or female corn inbreds quickly. What once took five generations of manual self-pollination can now be created in just two or three generations. Not only do DH’s speed the creation of new inbreds but because they are uniform, they improve and speed field testing required to identify performance. DH delivers inbreds faster (commonly called “instant inbreds”), with near-perfect genetic uniformity at a moderate cost.
Sorting all those new inbreds can become a bottleneck in finding commercially viable candidates. Similar to trying to find NFL players among thousands of college athletes, corn breeding also requires a large pool of candidate inbreds — as quickly as possible. Thankfully, selecting for inbreds with “Favorable DNA” (genes with proven performance) has never been easier or cheaper. Breeders used to spend thousands of dollars to identify a few genetic markers on a single inbred to make associations with key traits such as yield or disease tolerance. Today, we are fast approaching a capability to sequence an entire corn inbred genome (all genes) for less than a dollar. Considering that corn has more genes than humans (on fewer chromosomes), detailed genetic data can enable breeders to quickly select best “candidate” inbreds.
To speed development even further, “Predictive Breeding” can now use genetic data to now simulate some field performance prior to testing in the field. While this will never replace actual field testing predictions, it enables breeders to discard the “chaff” from the wheat — inbreds with low probability of good performance before they’re ever field tested.
Lastly, once commercial lines are identified, “Embryo Rescue” can cycle four generations of trait conversion in the lab and greenhouse in a single year, to deliver trait conversions in two years instead of what used to take four to five years.
None of these tools stand alone, but when paired together they create a powerful process to speed development, improve uniformity and reduce developmental cost of delivering improved Latham genetics to your farm.
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