Seeds of Change.
(Sound effect: theme music) I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.
Breeding a better banana; planting a more pest-free plantain; cultivating a new kind of cassava. Those three crops are staple foods for millions of the world's poorest people. They're also notoriously difficult to breed and that's been an obstacle in developing new varieties that are more drought, pest and disease resistant. But an international team of scientists aims to change that, using a revolutionary approach to plant breeding developed at the University of California, Davis.
With these slower growing plants, the conventional way to get new varieties is to cross two hybrid parents that have the traits you want. But, it's kind of hit or miss. You may or may not arrive at a plant that has all the traits you're looking for. The new method creates seeds that carry the DNA from only one parent. So if the parent has desirable traits, the offspring will definitely have them too. The technology lets breeders create new hybrids with beneficial traits in dramatically less time.
One of the other advantages to this technique is because it's being done with seeds you can store and ship them easily. Current propagation is uses much less hearty roots or stem cuttings.
With this seed of an idea, when it comes to new varieties of these crops, you might say scientists have now got their 'crosses' to 'bear.'
"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's national science foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at nsf.gov or on our podcast.