Origins of plant-breeding

The concept of breeding is as old as agriculture. Farmers have always selected the best plants, taken their seeds, thus adjusting the plants to the environment. It was an evolving process, as the environment was evolving. Then, in the 19th century, the discoveries of a naturalist named Charles Darwin and an Augustinian monk called Gregor Mendel laid the scientific basis for plant breeding.

Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection explained the process of evolution, which has been described as the ‘survival of the fittest’.

Gregor Mendel delivered the missing link to Darwin’s theory. He realized that it was not just nature, or the weather, that turned flowers white or red, but that it was something in the plant itself.

Mendel discovered the mechanism of inheritance by systematically crossing and studying pea plants in his monastery’s garden. And even though today’s commercial plant breeding has become a hi-tech science, requiring a global network, the basic idea is still the same: crossing and selecting.

Searching the world for variations

While the theory of plant breeding is relatively simple, the practice is a sophisticated craft. The first step is to bring in the right variations for crossing. If, for example, the goal is to breed yellow tomatoes, the first step is to look for a plant with a yellow characteristic.

We cooperate with our colleagues from all over the world in exchanging germplasm – unfinished varieties with one or two interesting traits we can use in a globally directed effort at plant improvement.
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