London: Scientists have developed a new method which allows them to predict the final size of a plant while it is still a seedling -- a discovery that can significantly accelerate plant breeding programmes.
The method is based on the knowledge that a set of genes is associated with the final size of a leaf.
The team from Vlaams Instituut voor Biotechnologie (VIB) and Ghent University in Belgium was able to identify this set of genes through advanced and highly-detailed analysis.
"These new insights will help us accelerate the plant breeding process," said scientist Dirk Inze from VIB.
It takes a long time to develop new strains of plants with a greater yield or greater resistance to disease.
At present, breeding products must be manually infected to determine whether they are disease-resistant, while corn plants must first produce ears before their yield can be determined.
"This selection process can be made much more efficient by choosing plants on the basis of genetic data rather than on the basis of external characteristics," the authors said.
It is now known to a large extent which DNA sequences are responsible for which traits.
By identifying the presence of such DNA sequences (also known as genetic markers) in seedlings, it is possible to predict at a very early stage whether the fully grown plants will be disease-resistant.
This type of breeding is called marker-assisted breeding.
The researchers developed a new method designed to predict the size of the leaves of a fully-grown corn plant while the plant itself is still a seedling.
Expression analysis of specific genes will help breeders select the most useful crossing products at a very early stage, they noted.
The results were published in two scientific papers in the journal Genome Biology.