Speed Breeding

Accelerating crop research and breeding programs

A major outcome of HickeyLab’s research has been the development and communication of crop ‘speed breeding’ technology. Speed breeding greatly shortens generation time, thereby accelerating crop breeding and research programs. Working with researchers at the University of Queensland and many other collaborators, the team refined the protocols that now enable up to six generations of many day-natural and long-day crops, such as wheat, barley, chickpea, canola, pea, and quinoa.

In 2018, the HickeyLab co-led a global collaborative effort of 58 researchers to publish the first multi-crop speed breeding protocols, which provide a ‘step-by-step’ guide for the research and breeding community to establish both small- and large-scale facilities (Watson et al. 2018 Nature Plants 4:23-29; Ghosh et al. 2018 Nature Protocols 13:2944-2963). Speed breeding can save up to five years for variety development by reducing the timeframe from 12 to 7 years.

Adoption and impact of Speed Breeding technology

The Speed Breeding technology was widely communicated and even appeared in mainstream media, such as the New York Times, National Geographic magazine, and BBC World News. This served to ‘popularize’ the technology, which is now adopted by many plant breeding and research programs in Australia and around the world. The technology is accelerating the development of improved crops for farmers.

To extend the benefits of this technology to smallholder farmers in Asia and Africa, we are collaborating with ICRISAT and Corteva through AVISA, a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation project. Through this project, we have developed speed breeding protocols for many short-day tropical crops, including sorghum, pearl millet, mungbean, and pigeonpea. Furthermore, we have assisted in the design of new facilities at ICRISAT (India), CIMMYT (Mexico), National Institute of Crop Science (South Korea), Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (Pakistan), and BecA/ILRI (Kenya).

Integrating breeding technologies

To accelerate genetic gain in crops

A major outcome of our research was the development of innovative breeding protocols that integrate multiple leading-edge technologies, including genomic selection, speed breeding, high-throughput phenotyping and crop modelling.

To determine optimal breeding strategies that combine speed breeding and genomic selection (i.e. ‘SpeedGS’ approaches), we performed genetic simulation studies using real wheat datasets and breeding schemes (Voss-Fels…Hickey et al. 2019). To validate the methodology, we generated the world’s first wheat lines developed using ‘SpeedGS’ (Watson, Hickey et al. 2019 Crop Science 59:1945-1959). The SpeedGS approaches were further highlighted in a review article (Hickey et al. 2019 Nature Biotechnology 37:744-754), and the new framework for integrating traits captured from high-throughput phenotyping platforms (such as UAV platforms) into multivariate genomic prediction was communicated at the 6th International Conference of Quantitative Genetics (Brisbane 2020).

We currently have two ARC Linkage Projects in collaboration with leading cereal breeding companies to apply new crop breeding approaches at a large scale within the Australian wheat and barley industries. These partnerships are at the forefront of breeding technology, and working closely with industry ensures maximum impact for farmers.