Crop Tech Corner

Scientists Play With Light and Water to Speed Up Crop Breeding

Loren Lindler
By  Loren Lindler , Editorial Intern
Some researchers are using LED technology and hydroponics to bring new-crop varieties to a growing population faster. (DTN photo by Nick Scalise)

OMAHA (DTN) -- This twice-monthly column condenses the latest news in the field of crop technology, research and products. Researchers say that by 2050, there could be 10 billion people in the world. A number of challenges face crop production around the world, including drought, diseases, pests and limited land. Scientists are tasked with breeding varieties that will produce higher yields but use less land and fewer resources. To aid in this, some international researchers are experimenting with two new techniques to speed up the breeding process: LED technology and hydroponics.

PLEASE, SIR, CAN I HAVE SOME MORE LIGHT?

Lee Hickey, a plant geneticist at the University of Queensland in Australia, is combining breeding and light-emitting diode (LED) technology to produce a form of "speed breeding."

Plant breeding can often take years. With speed breeding, researchers are able to use LED lights that are ideal for photosynthesis, which allows researchers to grow crops three times faster, creating more generations in a single year.

Botanists started growing plants under artificial light over 150 years ago. As the years passed, LED technology has vastly advanced, allowing scientists to be more precise by customizing light settings to individual crop species. The Australian researchers exposed their crops to 22 hours of continuous blue and red LED lights, under ideal temperatures, which essentially convinced the plants to flower early. A generation of crops can take months, or even a year, to breed with traditional methods. However, with the use of LED lights and speed breeding, scientists were able to grow six generations of wheat, barley, chickpeas and canola in a year.

A WATERY WONDER

To obtain the fastest breeding results in their greenhouses, scientists at the John Innes Centre in the U.K. are using hydroponics, the practice of growing crops without soil, usually with the use of a water-nutrient solution. Hydroponic techniques allow nutrients and oxygen to reach plant roots quicker.

Many researchers have found that hydroponic plants grow 30% to 50% faster than a plant grown in soil. The ample amount of oxygen in a hydroponics system allows the roots to absorb nutrients much faster, stimulating root growth. The U.K. researchers are taking advantage of this faster growing time to speed up their evaluation of the genomes of wild relatives of modern crops, which can hold valuable disease-resistance genes.

You can learn more about the LED technology and plant breeding with hydroponics: https://www.nowscience.co.uk/…

Loren Lindler can be reached at: loren.lindler@dtn.com

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(EU/BAS)

Loren Lindler