Genetic contributions to agricultural sustainability

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Journal Article
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2008, 363 (1491), pp. 591 - 609
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The current tools of enquiry into the structure and operation of the plant genome have provided us with an understanding of plant development and function far beyond the state of knowledge that we had previously. We know about key genetic controls repressing or stimulating the cascades of gene expression that move a plant through stages in its life cycle, facilitating the morphogenesis of vegetative and reproductive tissues and organs. The new technologies are enabling the identification of key gene activity responses to the range of biotic and abiotic challenges experienced by plants. In the past, plant breeders produced new varieties with changes in the phases of development, modifications of plant architecture and improved levels of tolerance and resistance to environmental and biotic challenges by identifying the required phenotypes in a few plants among the large numbers of plants in a breeding population. Now our increased knowledge and powerful gene sequence-based diagnostics provide plant breeders with more precise selection objectives and assays to operate in rationally planned crop improvement programmes. We can expect yield potential to increase and harvested product quality portfolios to better fit an increasing diversity of market requirements. The new genetics will connect agriculture to sectors beyond the food, feed and fibre industries; agri-business will contribute to public health and will provide high-value products to the pharmaceutical industry as well as to industries previously based on petroleum feedstocks and chemical modification processes. © 2007 The Royal Society.
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