Speaking last month at its research centre at Chappes in the Auvergne region of France to celebrate its 50th anniversary, Limagrain’s head of scientific support functions Jean-Pierre Martinant described how new crop strains were being developed faster than the 10 years it previously took, thanks to new techniques.
Currently, Limagrain uses both traditional gene marker-based seed selection, but with advanced processing techniques, and breeding by genetic modification (GM), otherwise known as transgenesis. The transgenesis process involves introducing an exogenous gene, called a transgene, into a living organism so that the organism will exhibit a new property, which it passes to its offspring.
The first stage of plant breeding involves creating diversity by genetic mixing of varieties, including old strains, and then selecting the plants with the best combination of traits from the progeny. This process is repeated multiple times to optimise the seed characteristics. Biotechnology and modern computer analysis are helping to reduce the time taken during the third, breeding cycle and trait evaluation, stage.
“We have more techniques that we can use to improve breeding efficiency,” said Martinant. “Using biotechnology firstly speeds up the breeding cycle time and secondly improves the accuracy of this breeding process.”
Limagrain is using molecular-assisted breeding (MAB), which involves genotyping (identifying molecular markers for specific characteristics) together with ‘biostatistics’ using advanced computer modelling and analytical techniques, to identify the desirable traits of wheat and maize seeds, such as disease resistance, while maximising both yield and protein content.
The advantages of MAB is that it can identify, for example, favourable genes for strength or extensibility of dough made with the flour from the wheat, while providing resistance of the crop to fungus, such as fusarium, and attack by insects, said Martinant.
This approach provides an alternative and speedier way of developing new plant varieties than traditional field trials, he added. Furthermore, the use of analytical techniques on machinery during the harvesting of small test plots also allows physical and chemical traits to be evaluated in real time.