Contributions of Conventional Plant Breeding to Food Production

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Science  11 Feb 1983:
Vol. 219, Issue 4585, pp. 689-693
DOI: 10.1126/science.219.4585.689


Within a relatively short geological time frame, Neolithic man, or more probably woman, domesticated all the major cereal grains, legumes, and root crops that the world's people depend on for most of their calories and protein. Until very recently, crop improvement was in the hands of farmers. The cornerstones of modern plant breeding were laid by Darwin and Mendel in the late 19th century. As the knowledge of genetics, plant pathology, and entomology have grown during the 20th century, plant breeders have made enormous contributions to increased food production throughout the world. There have been major plant breeding break-throughs for maize and wheat, and promising research activities to raise yields in marginal production environments are ongoing. Since it is doubtful that significant production benefits will soon be forthcoming from the use of genetic engineering techniques with higher plants, especially polyploid species, most research funds for crop improvement should continue to be allocated for conventional plant breeding research.