Future of plant breeding in society

For as long as the world population is expected to continue to increase, there will continue to be a demand for more food. However, with an increasing population comes an increasing demand for land for residential, commercial, and recreational uses. Sometimes, farm lands are converted to other uses. Increased food production may be achieved by increasing production per unit area or bringing new lands into cultivation. Some of the ways in which society will affect and be affected by plant breeding in the future are as follow:

1) New roles of plant breeding: The traditional roles of plant breeding (food, feed, fiber, and ornamentals) will continue to be important. However, new roles are gradually emerging for plants. The technology for using plants as bioreactors to produce pharmaceuticals will advance; this technology has been around for over a decade. Strategies are being perfected for use
of plants to generate pharmaceutical antibodies, engineering antibody-mediated pathogen resistance, and altering plant phenotypes by immunomodulation. Successes that have been achieved include the incorporation of Streptococcus surface antigen in tobacco,
and the herpes simplex virus in soybean and rice.

2 ) New tools for plant breeding: New tools will be developed for plant breeders, especially, in the areas of the application of biotechnology to plant breeding. New marker technologies continue to be developed and older ones advanced. Tools that will assist breeders to more effectively manipulate quantitative traits will be enhanced.

3) Training of plant breeders : As discussed elsewhere in the book, plant breeding programs have experienced a slight decline in graduates in recent past. Because of the increasing role of biotechnology in plant genetic manipulation, graduates who combine skills and knowledge in both conventional and molecular technologies are in high demand. It has been observed that some commercial plant breeding companies prefer to hire graduates with training in
molecular genetics, and then provide them with the needed plant breeding skills on the job.

4) The key players in plant breeding industry : The last decade saw a fierce race by multinational pharmaceutical corporations to acquire seed companies. There were several key mergers as well. The modern technologies of plant breeding are concentrated in the hands of a few of these giant companies. The trend of acquisition and mergers are likely to continue in the future.

5) Yield gains of crops: With the dwindling of arable land and the increase in policing of the environment by activists, there is an increasing need to produce more food or other crop products on the same piece of land in a more efficient and environmentally safer manner. High-yielding cultivars will continue to be developed, especially in crops that have received less
attention from plant breeders. Breeding for adaptation to environmental stresses (e.g., drought, salt) will continue to be important, and will enable more food to be produced on marginal lands.

6) The biotechnology debate : It is often said that these modern technologies for plant genetic manipulation benefit the developing countries the most since they are in dire need of food, both in quantity and nutritional value. On the other hand, the intellectual property that covers these technologies is owned by the giant multinational corporations. Efforts will continue to be made to negotiate fair use of these technologies. Appropriate technology transfer and support to the poor third world nations will continue, to enable them to develop capacity for the exploitation of these modern technologies.

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