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19 Apr, 2018

GIFS Distinguished Lecture Series featuring Dr. Rod Snowden – Back to the Future: Lessons from breeding history for sustainable crop productivity

Agricultural production must increase dramatically to sustain the growing world population, and plant breeding has been the major driver of increased crop productivity during the past 50 years. However, breeding in most major crops during this period focused primarily on securing high grain yield in high-input cropping systems. This gives rise to concerns that cultivars bred for highly intensive agricultural systems may lack the adaptive capacity to cope with emerging climatic or sustainability challenges. To address these concerns, we performed a comprehensive study of breeding progress in European winter wheat cultivars representing 50 years of breeding progress in one of the most intensive, highest-yielding cereal production systems on the planet. A large panel of cultivars – all representing leading varieties during their period of release – were grown over 3 years in a total of 30 unique environments spanning optimal and marginal soil, water and temperature conditions and comparing high-input vs. low-input cropping systems. The results provide unique insight into the influence of long-term breeding progress on crop productivity and sustainability. An accompanying genome-wide analysis of genetic diversity parameters and selection patterns illuminates how intense artificial selection and breeding impacts diversity and future selection potential in the world’s most important cereal crop. Similar data from other crops like winter canola indicate that our findings have general applicability, with important consequences for breeding towards sustainable productivity of major global crops. Innovative new breeding approaches driven by genomics data may help to identify, implement and recombine useful crop genetic diversity and promote sustainable crop yields in future.


U of S Campus, Saskatoon, Marquis Hall, 97 Campus Drive Exeter Room (Upper Level)