Australian scientists have come up with the ‘speed breeding’ technique after being inspired by NASA’s experiments to grow wheat in space. This particular technique holds the capacity to boost the production of crops more than three times the present rate. In the NASA experiments, the scientists used the method of continuous light exposure on wheat which helped trigger an early reproduction stage in the plants.
Lee Hickey, a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Queensland in Australia described the technique as he said,” We thought we could use the NASA idea to grow plants quickly back on Earth, and in turn, accelerate the genetic gain in our plant breeding programs. By using speed breeding techniques in specially modified glasshouses we can grow six generations of wheat, chickpea and barley plants, and four generations of canola plants in a single year – as opposed to two or three generations in a regular glasshouse or a single generation in the field.”
The experiments showed that the output of plants that were grown under controlled climate with extended daylight conditions was as good as the regular ones in glasshouses or even better than them. This technique has gathered a lot of global interest as the world needs to produce about 60 to 80 percent more food than its present number by the year 2050. It has been estimated that at the current rate of population growth, the world would reach a global population of nine billion by 2050. This means the world requires more food at a faster rate to feed so many humans.
Up until now, the speed breeding technique was just used for research purpose. However, with the current scenario for the need of food, industries are adopting this technology as fast as possible. This year, a newly developed variety of wheat known as ‘DS Faraday’ shall be released in conjunction with the new technology. This variety has been developed in partnership with Dow AgroSciences.
DS Faraday is a wheat variety that houses a tolerance to pre-harvesting sprouting with high protein content. The wheat scientists in Australia have been attempting to solve the wet weather harvest time problem for more than four decades now. With the newly introduced genes for grain dormancy in the new variety, the problem has been tackled. This is a breakthrough in the grain dormancy factor. Speed breeding has been a great help to address this issue.
Many of the key experiments that went into the documentation of this breakthrough were conducted by UQ Ph.D. student Amy Watson, co-author of the paper. The findings of the experiments were published in the journal Nature Plants which documented the rapid growth of plant under various conditions along with the flexibility of the system for a multi-crop species. Speed breeding can also find applications in future vertical farming systems along with some horticultural crops.