Plant breeding is an ancient practice of crossing, selecting, and improving crops for traits of value to humans. It has been underway since crops were domesticated more than 12,000 years ago and continues in full force today wherever these crops are grown. Modern plant breeding incorporates many of the basic elements that have been in use since antiquity as well as newer techniques discovered in the 20th century including DNA-based selection strategies and advanced statistical models. Plant breeding is practiced by gardeners, hobbyists, farmers, scientists, and professional plant breeders throughout the world.
Plant breeding is a way to modify and improve plant species to achieve the needs and wants of humankind. It is a field that is essential to our survival and to the sustainable use of our agricultural landscapes. Breeding is necessary to develop resistance to diseases and pests, to drought and temperature extremes, and to improve quality factors that can positively impact the lives of people throughout the world. Plant breeding can also be used to help adapt crops to new locations throughout the world, thereby improving food security and supporting local and regional food systems. Plant breeders also serve as a vital link in the chain between farmers and consumers, helping to develop traits that make farming easier and more efficient, and that increase consumer’s satisfaction with the resulting product.
Although plant breeding has been taking place for thousands of years, it didn’t become an academic discipline until about 100 years ago, following the rediscovery of Mendel’s laws. Since that time, the study and practice of crop breeding has taken place in a variety of locations, perhaps most significantly at universities throughout the world and in the private sector seed companies. A great deal of breeding in ornamental plant species also takes place today by hobbyists and gardeners.
The University of Wisconsin has offered formal training in plant breeding and plant genetics since 1968, though students obtaining degrees in Agronomy and Horticulture prior to that time may have had formal training in plant breeding as well. The Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics program at Wisconsin today is highly interdisciplinary, with membership from agronomy, biochemistry, botany, forest and wildlife ecology, genetics, horticulture, plant pathology, and statistics. Research areas include biochemical and molecular genetics, biometry, quantitative genetics, cytogenetics and cytology, genetics, and plant breeding. More information on our program can be found at http://plantbreeding.wisc.edu/
The University of Wisconsin leads the nation in the number of plant breeding graduate students trained in the US. A list of our graduates can be found here. Our students come from throughout the US and all over the world. Graduates are found in responsible positions with academic institutions, research institutions, and private companies involved in molecular to cultivar development work.