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A new technique could help crops grow in record time

A scientific breakthrough in the world of agriculture could help crops grow in record time thanks to a new speed breeding technique.

A research team from the John Innes Centre, University of Queensland, and the University of Sydney developed a speed breeding technique that accelerated wheat growth with immensely successful results.

A full cycle of wheat took only eight weeks from seed to harvest thanks to long, intense periods of photosynthesis, artificially aided with LED lighting.  

Speed breeding could be a necessity in the coming years with growing demand for food outweighing available land for productive and sustainable crop growth.

“Globally, we face a huge challenge in breeding higher yielding and more resilient crops,” said Dr. Brande Wulff from the John Innes Centre, Norwich, a lead author on the paper. “Being able to cycle through more generations in less time will allow us to more rapidly create and test genetic combinations, looking for the best combinations for different environments.”

The researchers were able to speed up growth and breeding by creating fully controlled artificial environments with enhanced lighting. The intensified lighting sped up wheat growth from seed to harvest, aka seed to seed, in eight weeks.

This technique could produce as many six generations of wheat in a single year.

The lab environment could easily be replicated in a typical greenhouse, and the technique could work for many different vital crops.

Other breeding methods currently being used today are not nearly so successful in their application as this new process.

One exciting result of the speed breeding technique is the opportunities it presents to the field of crop genetics.

“Speed breeding as a platform can be combined with lots of other technologies such as CRISPR gene editing to get to the end result faster,” said Dr. Lee Hickey, a member of the research team.

The technique is already being welcomed by wheat breeders and has helped researchers in Australia develop wheat with a tolerance to pre-harvest sprouting, a huge problem for breeders in the country.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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