Maryke T. Labuschagne
Ancient grains breeding: current status and future prospects
SARChI chair in disease resistance and nutritional value of field crops, Department of Plant Sciences, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa
Rice, bread wheat, maize, millets and sorghum provide 60% of the energy intake of the world. A limited number of accessions of these crops are used for production. Wheat has three species and more than 20 subspecies, yet on a global level, bread wheat is produced almost exclusively, with a small percentage of durum wheat production. This focus on a very few species and accessions has led to a loss in biodiversity which can contribute towards constraints in meeting challenges in the agricultural landscape, such as global warming. The exploitation of ancient species can be a key factor driving genetic improvements in plant breeding. There are active breeding programs for crops such as sorghum, teff, oats and millet. Ancient wheat species such as kamut, einkorn and emmer are often low yielding and poorly adapted to modern agricultural practices, but often contain genes coding for specific nutritional traits that are absent in modern cultivars, and they also have genes for tolerance to biotic and abiotic stresses. One avenue to exploit ancient grains is to screen all possible germplasm stored in numerous gene banks across the globe, and identifying genotypes with positive attributes which may be directly commercialized for production. Another option is the introduction of genes from ancient grains into modern cultivars or breeding material via crosses or biotechnology approaches. On the whole, the introduction of ancient grains can support the diversification of food crops. A good strategy needs to be in place, where various role players should be included, and these crops should be marketed to the world for their benefits.