Several companies have begun using or continue to use molecular marking technology to speed up the selection process for corn hybrids, and make their operation more efficient. You don't have to know everything there is to know about this complicated process to understand the concept.
"Plant breeding is a numbers game," says Keith Rufener II, a plant breeder for Beck's Hybrids, Atlanta. "If we can cut down on the number of plants we have to work with to find the ones with the best traits, we can speed up the breeding process."
Beck's Hybrids started construction on a molecular marker lab soon after the first of this year. The lab is now completed, stocked with the proper equipment, and operating, coming up to speed to help give breeders the information they need. Much of the work in the lab is done by robots. That's because much of the procedure is repetitive and time consuming, and is well-suited to what robots can accomplish.
Gaining access to the genomic code for corn within the last decade has changed how breeding is done. The molecular marker technology alone can help screen out hundreds if not thousands of samples that would never make the cut. Instead of growing them out, the lab analysis determines they don't have traits the breeders are looking for, and they can be discarded right away. Some companies have estimated that using molecular markers can reduce the amount of material a corn breeder must grow out and look at each year by 30%.
The technology is also useful when breeders and their team of assistants are putting selected traits into elite germplasm. The faster scientists can determine which plants have the gene as backcrossing begins and which ones don't, the faster the process can take place. Insertion of GMO traits into lines that will make the cut is an important step in the process toward commercial release of a hybrid today.