Speed Breeding Technology

The growing human population and a changing environment have raised significant concern for global food security, with the current improvement rate of several important crops inadequate to meet future demand. This slow improvement rate is attributed partly to the long generation times of crop plants.

‘Speed breeding’ technology shortens the breeding cycle and accelerates crop research through rapid generation advancement. Speed breeding can be carried out in numerous ways, one of which involves extending the duration of plants’ daily exposure to light, combined with early seed harvest, to cycle quickly from seed to seed, thereby reducing the generation times for some long-day or day-neutral crops.

Speed breeding can be used to achieve up to 6 generations per year for spring wheat (Triticum aestivum), durum wheat (T. durum), barley (Hordeum vulgare), chickpea (Cicer arietinum) and pea (Pisum sativum), and 4 generations for canola (Brassica napus), instead of 2–3 under normal glasshouse conditions. The technique has also been successfully adapted to oat, various Brassica species, grass pea, quinoa, Medicago truncatula and Brachypodium distachyon.

Speed breeding in controlled environment growth chambers can accelerate plant development for research purposes, including phenotyping of adult plant traits, mutant studies and transformation. The use of supplemental lighting using LEDs in a glasshouse environment allows rapid generation cycling through single seed descent (SSD) and plant density can be scaled-up for large crop improvement programs.

In collaboration with the University of Sydney and the John Innes Centre we have developed protocols suitable for speed breeding in glasshouses and growth chambers, along with instructions on how to build your own benchtop speed breeding cabinet, enabling optimization of parameters at a low cost.

We envisage great potential for integrating speed breeding with other modern crop breeding technologies, including high-throughput genotyping, genome editing and genomic selection, accelerating the rate of crop improvement.

For the protocols and more information on speed breeding:

Watson A, Ghosh S, Williams M, Cuddy WS, Simmonds J, Rey MD, Hatta MAM, Hinchliffe A, Steed A, Reynolds D, Adamski N, Breakspear A, Korolev A, Rayner T, Dixon LE, Riaz A, Martin W, Ryan M, Edwards D, Batley J, Raman H, Carter J, Rogers C, Domoney C, Moore G, Harwood W, Nicholson P, Dieters MJ, DeLacy IH, Zhou J, Uauy C, Boden SA, Park RF, Wulff BBH, Hickey LT (2018) Speed breeding is a powerful tool to accelerate crop research and breeding. Nature Plants (4) 23–29

Ghosh S, Watson A, Gonzalez-Navarro OE, Ramirez-Gonzalez RH, Yanes L, Mendoza-Suárez M, Simmonds J, Wells R, Rayner T, Green P, Hafeez A, Hayta S, Melton RE, Steed A, Sarkar A, Carter J, Perkins L, Lord J, Tester M, Osbourn A, Moscou MJ, Nicholson P, Harwood W, Martin C, Domoney C, Uauy C, Hazard B, Wulff BBH, Hickey LT (2018) Speed breeding in growth chambers and glasshouses for crop breeding and model plant research. Nature Protocols13:2944–2963

Speed breeding technology

Space age plant breeding

Time-lapse: speed breeding vs. regular glasshouse