Where do our veggies come from? Plant breeding at Market Science

by Allison Haaning

Plant Biological Sciences graduate students from the University of Minnesota were at the market this past Saturday to share their knowledge about plant breeding. Pretty much all of our modern-day crops and ornamental plants have been selectively bred for higher yield, better taste, prettier flowers, or a number of other beneficial characteristics.

At the Market Science Plant Breeding session we tested our knowledge of which common household products are plant-derived, looked at some truly unique tomato plants, and observed a progression of barley breeding from wild to cultivated plants.
At the Market Science Plant Breeding session we tested our knowledge of which common household products are plant-derived, looked at some truly unique tomato plants, and observed a progression of barley breeding from wild to cultivated plants.

We learned about how hybridization is used to create new varieties of tomatoes and even observed step-by-step under a microscope how tomato hybrids are created. We saw how a plant breeder would identify potential fruit-bearing flowers on the mother plant and carefully dissect the flower, leaving only the stigma. Then pollen harvested from the father plant is applied to the dissected flowers, so the new tomatoes bear seeds that are the hybrids of both the mother and father plants. Hybrid plants might have desirable characteristics from both parents.

We also got a sneak peek (and taste!) of a new high-yielding, early maturing tomato variety that is being developed specifically for cold northern climates by Professor Changbin Chen at the University of Minnesota, Department of Horticultural Sciences.

Tomatoes! Top left: A hybrid tomato plant flanked by its mother and father plants*. Hybridization is used to introduce new variation into plants. Bottom right: Close-up of a tomato from the father plant, INDIGO™ ‘Blue Dawg’. Top right: A bunch of tomatoes cut from a high yielding, early maturing plant being developed for northern climates.
Tomatoes! Top left: A hybrid tomato plant flanked by its mother and father plants*. Hybridization is used to introduce new variation into plants. Bottom right: Close-up of a tomato from the father plant, INDIGO™ ‘Blue Dawg’. Top right: A bunch of tomatoes cut from a high yielding, early maturing plant being developed for northern climates. Bottom left: Step-by-step instructions for creating a hybrid tomato plant. *Hybrid and parent seed kindly provided by tomato breeder Tom Wagner (tom8toes.com/, tater-mater.blogspot.com/)

Most modern crops are derived from wild plants, so we also featured a collection of barley that showed the progression of barley breeding from smaller, leafier, wild relatives to large-seeded cultivars, varieties that have been specifically bred for high yield and other important characteristics, like malting qualities.

Graduate student Derek Nedveck checking out an unusual-looking barley landrace. Landraces are varieties that have been grown in very small regions for many generations, and, as a result, they become adapted to the specific environmental conditions in which they’re grown.
Graduate student Derek Nedveck checking out an unusual-looking barley landrace. Landraces are varieties that have been grown in very small regions for many generations, and, as a result, they become adapted to the specific environmental conditions in which they’re grown.

At the next market, we’re focusing on one particular crop that’s been bred from a wild North American plant: corn! See how cultivation has lead to delicious fruit, sugary snacks, and even compostable plastics at the Festival del Maíz!

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