As global food needs increase, so does the need for crops that can be efficiently and safely produced. Breakthrough technologies including key information on the genetics or “genomes” of crops aid traditional plant breeding methods.
A group of researchers and educators from U.S. land-grant universities, government agencies and industry has created the first Internet resource aimed at quickly putting basic research on crop genomes on the Web to support plant breeding programs. The resource is new at eXtension (pronounced E-extension), http://www.extension.org.
David Francis, associate professor at The Ohio State University noted, “eXtension provides an entry point into the research knowledge of the land-grant university system. We’ve developed a resource to help train the next generation of plant breeders and help current professionals keep abreast of new developments, as well as inform growers and processors about the technological advances that bring them new varieties.”
Putting research into practice
Traditional plant breeding focused on the selection of the best plant lines based on traits (phenotypes). In the past decade, research has yielded extensive databases of gene sequences and of the complete genetic makeup (genomes) of entire plants. As sequencing technology improves, information to aide in crop improvement is expanding rapidly. This basic research information is used when linking important agricultural traits to genetic sequence variations and incorporating this knowledge into crop improvement strategies.
In 2009 the international community was still working to complete the first draft of the tomato genome sequence; in 2010 two draft sequences became public. The research community expects as many as 100 Solanaceae genomes to be available within the next year or two. This complements whole genome sequences already known in key crops such as potato, rice, poplar, soybean, maize, cotton and cucumber. Francis explained, “This information explosion means that practitioners need resources for continuing education to keep up with new developments.”
Dave Douches, a Michigan State University potato breeder and leader of the Solanaceae Coordinated Agricultural Project (SolCAP), highlighted the need for this eXtension effort. “SolCAP developed more than 5.7 gigabytes of sequence data for three potato varieties. We mined this data for genetic differences and developed a tool that allows breeders and their support crews to quickly survey breeding populations for 8,300 genetic differences. The material will help the breeding community make better use of genetic information and increase the likelihood that plant breeding will benefit from genotype-based selection processes.”
Allen Van Deynze, director of research for the Seed Biotechnology Center at the University of California, Davis, emphasized the importance of access to information “The goal of the Plant Breeding and Genomics resource on eXtension is to act as a portal to the vast number of public databases in crops and genetic and genomic resources.”
Resource for agriculture producers
Another important function of the eXtension resource will be to provide up-to-date production information on new varieties to producers. Members of the Barley Coordinated Agricultural Project (CAP) provided a template for this goal.
Gary Muehlbauer, professor at the University of Minnesota and principal investigator of the Barley CAP, emphasizes that “providing information on barley improvement efforts is a central goal of eXtension and CAPs.” He adds that the barley grower site on eXtension “highlights information available for growers about planting and production of existing varieties, as well as those improved through the genomics and breeding efforts of Barley CAP research.”
Educational information developed by the Wheat CAP and Rosaceae CAP (RosBREED) is also on eXtension.