The following is a guest post by Matthew Szarzanowicz to begin a special blog series “Approaches for Crop Improvement”.

Approaches for Crop Improvement: An overview

If there is one thing that unifies us, it is our daily need to consume food. Human history and cultures globally are inextricably linked with culinary wonders and oddities, and the foundation of these underlying food systems is ultimately crop improvement. Through an understanding of crop improvement, we can work to further enhance agriculture to create food systems that are more robust, sustainable and equitable to propel us to a greener and more food-secure future. In this series, we will explore the realm of crop improvement as we cover a wide array of methodologies that are used to enhance crop plants. The following series will highlight key techniques and advancements in the field of crop improvement and discuss their potential integration into developing the food systems of the future. A massive amount of human ingenuity, labor, patience and a tad bit of luck are needed to bring a species from its wild form to a domesticated state. It is my hope that this series will provide a framework for understanding and appreciating the efforts underlying crop improvement and the role that plant biodiversity and genetics play in these ventures.  

What will be covered?

The following aspects of crop improvement will be covered during the upcoming weeks:

  • Traditional Plant Breeding
    • Harnessing the tremendous power of natural biodiversity
  • Mutagenesis
    • The ultimate source of all biodiversity is mutations. How we can induce mutations in an accelerated way to mimic what already naturally occurs?
  • The Importance of Genome Sequencing for Crop Improvement
    • What is genome sequencing and how did we get here?
  • Gene Editing
    • What is CRISPR and how is it used?
  • Functional Genomics: Understanding how genes function together to create a given characteristic
    • How can we determine what genes are responsible for a given plant characteristic (trait)?
  • Genetic Engineering
    • How can crops be genetically engineered?
  • Integration of Approaches: Crafting Robust and Sustainable Food Systems
    • How can we integrate our toolbox of methods to enhance crop improvement?