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Sorghum Breeding Research Cuts Time in Half

For the past several years sorghum research has lagged behind that of corn and soybeans, but that could soon change with technology advances. DuPont Pioneer partnered with the Sorghum Checkoff to improve sorghum breeding.

“The thrust of the project was to identify and explore the opportunity to develop a double haploid breeding system,” says Justin Weinheimer, Sorghum Checkoff crop improvement director. “It improves bandwidth. Conventional breeding requires rigorous cycles of backcrossing. With double haploid systems it reduces backcrossing so researchers create hybrids more efficiently and give farmers access to technology in sorghum faster.”

The group found two sorghum inducer lines—the first step toward a double haploid breeding system and the first discovery of its kind in sorghum. An inducer line is used to create sorghum progeny with a single set of chromosomes instead of the two copies normally found in sorghum.  After these chromosomes are then doubled, breeders can make hybrid crosses with all chromosomes homozygous in just one generation.

“This takes us from four to six years to create a inbred line down to just one year,” says Cleve Franks, DuPont Pioneer sorghum researcher. “This will allow us to expedite the breeding process tremendously, as well as streamline adding traits like herbicide, drought or sugarcane aphid tolerance.”

Double haploid breeding systems, while more advanced, are still non-GMO. Breeders use native traits and the “blank slate” type inducer lines to quickly produce the desired cross. The total time for a new hybrid can be as short as four years from start to finish.

The next step is to get new technology in farmers’ hands as soon as possible.

“I’d like to see this used routinely with our breeders within the next three years,” Franks says. “Once it’s in place new hybrids will move through out hybrid trialing system following the regular process.”

It’ll still be several years before farmers get to plant sorghum hybrids produced from this research. When they are available the hybrids will be tailored to farmers’ needs and locations. This research was performed in Iowa, Kansas, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Texas—providing a wide variety of environments.

Breeders will likely focus on discovering and integrating traits such as sugarcane aphid tolerance and drought tolerance first as many farmers struggle with those challenges. Herbicide tolerance should be available in select sorghum hybrids and brands—this new technology could accelerate the availability of that trait.

“Farmers who produce sorghum have not had access to sorghum technology like those in other crops,” Weinheimer says. “Our goal is to change that.”

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