Plant breeding can be made more efficient by having fewer, better crosses

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November 2013


Every year, cereal breeders in international agricultural research centres that helped produce the Green Revolution make hundreds, or thousands, of crosses and derive only small populations from each one. This breeding strategy is perpetuated because high-volume crossing, despite the inevitable inefficiency of having many failed crosses, produced the iconic Green Revolution varieties that were successful in dramatically increasing yields from the 1960s to the present day, and because it continues to produce genetic gains in crop yield. Hence there has been little momentum for change even though a high-volume cross approach is very difficult to employ in more modestly funded national programmes. However, changes ought to be considered because making so many crosses that most must fail is not justified either by theory or comparative experiment.