The researchers study the possible parents to match. Much like people say they have preferences for various human trait characteristics (see, “a tall man with blond hair and blue eyes”), researchers are looking for certain trait characteristics in plants for future generations of the plants. For example, over time, certain plants in a species have developed good tolerance to drought; others have developed tolerance to a certain disease. If a researcher can match plants with these characteristics, he may be able to breed a plant with a good mix of the two characteristics.
In the past, this work was done in greenhouses and fields, and could be very time-consuming. But with today’s technologies, our plant breeders can see the DNA and genetics of plants and make more informed decisions earlier in the breeding process. By the time they get into field research trials, they have already pre-screened and eliminated the plants that may not be what they’re looking for.
Our Competitive Advantage
Monsanto can continuously deliver unique combinations of new traits and genetics through a combination of seed chipping and molecular breeding. What is remarkable about this process is we can analyze each seed before planting and only plant the seeds with the best potential—greatly improving the efficiency of the breeding process and the quality of the plants.
Molecular breeding, in practice, creates an inventory of a plant’s genes and what those genes do. Once the DNA tied to those genes are identified (known as markers), our scientists can use those markers to tell which plants we want to use to breed the next generation of high-performing plants. It’s like going from using a compass to a GPS system, tremendously cutting down on time and resources.
Our seed chippers, designed by Monsanto engineers, allow us to determine the genetics of a seed without destroying the seed itself. The chipper sorts and rotates a seed so a tiny tissue sample can be shaved off to be analyzed. If that seed contains the genetic traits we desire, the seed is still viable, so a breeder can plant it in a field test and use it in the breeding process to create more seeds of its kind.
Using technologies and scientific knowledge of today and applying it to the age-old practice of breeding allows us to find the best-of-the-best germplasm, or genetics, and get high-performing seeds to farmers’ fields – faster. Compared to conventional breeding, our breeding program today is doubling the rate of improvement in key genetic characteristics such as yield and important agronomic traits, which can help agriculture become more sustainable.
VIDEO: A Monsanto breeder talks about the tools of his trade