Using DNA to Breed Better Fruit
We have been controlling the reproduction of plants and animals that we rely on for food for the last 10,000 years. Almost every object that appears on our dinner plates is the end result of a breeding program in which specific traits have been selected for decades or even millennia. But breeding is also an essential part of our future.
Traditionally, when breeders aim to generate a new cultivar (plant selected for desirable characteristics) of a crop, they choose parents with desirable traits and make them reproduce. Often, hundreds or thousands of the resulting offspring are grown, but only a select few may be deemed worthy of commercial use. While this process has generated most of the food we enjoy today, it is also laborious, time-consuming and expensive.
Dr. Sean Myles, Canada Research Chair in Agricultural Genetic Diversity, aims to help make the breeding process more efficient and cost-effective by helping breeders decide which offspring to keep and which offspring to discard. He is doing this through marker-assisted breeding, which uses genetic information to guide the breeding process.
The challenge lies in determining what constitutes a desirable genetic profile and what does not. Myles is figuring out which DNA variants in apple trees are associated with desirable traits, such as sweetness/acidity balance, and which are not.
Myles’ research will enable breeders to predict what apples will taste like before trees are fully grown. It will also help develop food that tastes better and requires less chemicals to grow.