ETH Zürich, Institut für Agrarwissenschaften, 8092 Zürich

Hybrid cereals are progressing

Low return on investment from breeding licenses has made breeding of self-fertilizing species like wheat and barley less attractive. However, for some decades, the variety types have been changing in Europe, because cytoplasmic male sterile systems of outcrossing species like maize, rape seed and rye exist for the production of affordable hybrid seeds, which have recently been introduced for barley but not for wheat. To produce hybrid seed, two homozygous lines must be crossed. The development of a pure line takes up to seven inbreeding generations. In many cereals, the process can be shortened biotechnologically by regenerating plants from haploid gametes leading to so-called double haploids (DH), which are genetically identical to complete inbred lines. Varieties of self-fertilizing species, such as barley and wheat, are yield optimized inbred lines by definition; therefore, it requires much more investigation to find combinations with increased hybrid vigor for self-fertilizing than for outcrossing species, which usually show great inbreeding depression. However, big international companies have renewed their interest in hybrid wheat breeding, now that even the G20 have realized that the global crop number 1 for food supply, wheat, has become an orphan crop. For big companies, it would be attractive to ensure long-term investments when farmers change seeds annually due to higher yield consistency and solid financial gains – a win-win option. Smaller breeding programs will have to determine when to join this new movement

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