Speed Breeding

Space age plant breeding lights the way for future crops

NASA experiments to grow wheat in space were the inspiration for University of Queensland scientists to develop the world’s first ‘speed breeding’ procedures here on planet Earth.

UQ Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) Senior Research Fellow Dr Lee Hickey said the NASA experiments involved using continuous light on wheat which triggered early reproduction in the plants.

We thought we could use the NASA idea to grow plants quickly back on Earth, and in turn, accelerate the genetic gain in our plant breeding programs,” Dr Hickey said.

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Why the world needs faster food

While well acquainted with the earth and soil as a crop scientist, Dr Lee Hickey’s inspiration has come from the stars. Inspired by the way NASA astronauts grow plants in space, Lee leads a research lab aiming to unlock the power of ‘speed breeding’ technology, which enables up to six plant generations per year.

Speed breeding provides a powerful tool for crop improvement, through which Lee investigates the genetics of disease and drought resistance in order to design more robust crops for farmers. Dr Hickey is an emerging leader in the field of plant breeding and genetics. He leads a research team working on Australia’s most important cereal crops, wheat and barley, situated within the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation at The University of Queensland. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community.

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