British Society for Plant Pathology
25th Anniversary Celebratory Meeting

Imperial College, London 19th December 2006

From genetics to plant breeding: what do we know and what do we need to know?

James Brown, John Innes Centre, Norwich

Plant breeding is one of the most revolutionary, life-changing technologies developed in the 20th century. Yet despite the proven success of this technology, the last 25 years have been marked by a severe decline in the teaching of plant breeding in universities and in research on genetics to underpin breeding. Meanwhile, expenditure has flourished on genetic manipulation, a technology which has promised far more than it has delivered. The situation in academia contrasts sharply with the continuing success of the largely private plant breeding industry. A chasm has therefore opened up between research on plant genetics and commercial plant improvement. I will argue that likely changes in the severity of different plant diseases over the next 25 years means that it is now more important than ever to use successful, trustworthy technology to combat them. I will discuss (1) reasons for the decline of plant breeding as an academic subject, (2) what we do (and don't) need to know about plant genetics, pathogen evolution and pathogenesis to support breeding for disease resistance, (3) how technological developments over the last 25 years have (and haven't) improved resistance breeding and (4) how the genuine benefits of GM can be integrated with the proven technology of breeding to control disease. Examples will be taken from fungal diseases of cereals.