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Modern Biotechnology As An Integral Supplement To Conventional Plant Breeding: The Prospects And Challenges

P. Jauhar
Published 2006 · Biology

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The art of plant breeding was developed long before the laws of genetics became known. The advent of the principles of genetics at the turn of the last century catalyzed the growth of breeding, making it a science-based technology that has been instrumental in substantial improvements in crop plants. Largely through exploitation of hybrid vigor, grain yields of several cereal crops were substantially increased. Intervarietal and interspecific hybridizations, coupled with appropriate cytogenetic manipulations, proved useful in moving genes for resistance to diseases and insect pests from suitable alien donors into crop cultivars. Plant improvement has been further accelerated by biotechnological tools of gene transfer, to engineer new traits into plants that are very difficult to introduce by traditional breeding. The successful deployment of transgenic approaches to combat insect pests and diseases of important crops like rice (Oryza sativa L.), wheat (Triticum aestivum L.), maize (Zea mays L.), barley (Hordeum vulgare L.), and cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) is a remarkable accomplishment. Biofortification of crops constitutes another exciting development in tackling global hunger and malnutrition. Golden Rice, genetically enriched with vitamin A and iron, has, for example,the real potential of saving millions of lives. Yet another exciting application of transgenic technology is in the production of edible vaccines against deadly diseases. How these novel approaches to gene transfer can effectively supplement the conventional breeding programs is described. The current resistance to acceptance of this novel technology should be assessed and overcome so that its full potential in crop improvement can be realized. A PARAMOUNT FACTOR in the evolution of human civilizations was a steady supply of food. Food production is therefore the oldest profession of humanity. The processes of crop cultivation and selection were an integral part of human activity. Although early “plant breeding” was developed essentially as an art, its scientific basis became well established with the rediscovery of laws of genetics at the turn of the last century. And with the application of the principles of genetics to crop improvement, the period from 1930 to 1970 witnessed a phenomenal increase in crop yields, particularly of cereal grains (Khush, 1999). Largely through exploitation of hybrid vigor, maize, pearl millet [Pennisetum glaucum (L.) R. Br.], and sorghum [Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench]registeredaconsiderableincreaseingrainyields
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