Plant Breeding and Crop Improvement


To respond to the increasing need to feed the world's population, standing at 7.1–7.2 billion in 2013 and predicted to reach over 9 billion by 2050, as well as an ever greater demand for a balanced and healthy diet, there is a continuing need to produce improved new cultivated varieties of crop plants. Land available for crop production is limited and has stayed at 660 million hectares for the past 50 years. Much of the world's best soils are already in use and others are protected, for example, for environmental concerns. The demand for food brings marginal lands into play for which stress‐tolerant crops need to be developed. Climate variation is yet another challenge breeders have to respond to. In short, more food, fibre, fuel and forage need to be produced per unit of land, and time is of the essence. The strategies used to meet these demands are increasingly based on our knowledge of relevant science, particularly genetics and reproductive biology. Success is gained by a multidisciplinary understanding and the deployment of relevant science and technology.

Key Concepts

  • Plant breeders must have access to genetic variation in crop species.
  • Plant breeders must be equipped with the tools to respond quickly to new demands by developing accelerated breeding techniques and the ability to screen for traits of interest rapidly among progeny.
  • Yield and yield stability remain the top priorities for breeders.
  • Increasing production of plant products is essential for food, feed and fibre for the increasing World population.
  • Breeders must be visionary in planning for requirements in the future, at least 7–20 years ahead, as this is the timescale from initiating the breeding programme to release cultivars.

Keywords: crossing; sexual reproduction; selection; multiplication; varieties; cultivars; plant breeding; plant improvement; genetic variation

Figure 1. Diagrammatic representation of the major steps in any plant breeding programme.
Figure 2. The bulk method.
Figure 3. Recurrent phenotypic selection.


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Further Reading

Bado S, Forster BP, Nielen S, et al. (2015) Plant mutation breeding: current progress and future assessment. Plant Breeding Reviews 39: 23–87.

Brown J, Caligari PDS and Campos HA (2014) Plant Breeding, 2nd edn. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell.

Forster BP, Till BJ, Ghanim AMA, Huynh HOA, Burstmayr H and Caligari PDS (2015) Accelerated plant breeding. CAB Reviews No. 43. 1749‐8848

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Touraev A, Forster BP and Mohan Jain S (2009) Advances in Haploid Production in Higher Plants, pp. 1–347. New York: Springer.

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Caligari, Peter DS, and Forster, Brian P(Nov 2015) Plant Breeding and Crop Improvement. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0002024.pub3]