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Sowing the Seeds for the Ideal Crop

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 Elizabeth Pennisi, Science, Feb. 12 2010, Vol. 327. no. 5967,pp. 802 - 803.  

Researchers' wish list includes traits that could boost plant productivity. New technologies are needed to make some of these advances possible.

Listen to plant breeders talk about food security, and the message becomes loud and clear: Substantial improvements are needed in current crops to achieve higher yields and sustainable farming. To achieve those gains, agricultural companies have turned to robotics and other measures to streamline breeding programs. And researchers are finding creative ways to introduce and use genes. The point is to make a plant that's tough, productive, and healthful. Here's a quick look at just some of the most desired plant improvements—and the techniques that might make them possible.

 Lofty Goals
1. Improve the nutrient content of seeds and edible plant parts
2. No more sex.- get hybrids to reproduce asexually through a process called apomixis.  
3. Install warning lights. A pigment gene that turns on—and alert farmers to take remedial action.  
4. More crop per drop. upgrading drought-response biochemical pathways—could increase water-use efficiency.  
5. Longer shelf life. Enhanced control of ripening and senescence could reduce the amount of spoiled harvest.
6. Improve nitrogen efficiency. Fertilizers are costly to farmers and the environment. Improving a plant's uptake and use would be a big help. Better yet, build into the plant the genes necessary to carry out nitrogen fixation
7. Tougher pest defenses. Adding genes for toxins that kill only pest insects or nematodes can help, as can the addition of genes that attract the enemies of these pests.

Technologies for a Better Farming Future:  Artificial Chromosomes; RNA Interference; Targeted Gene Replacement; Robotics