Speed-breeding: from space to the benchtop
10th December 2018
Scientists from the Norwich Research Park recently announced how they’ve adapted speed-breeding technology originally developed by NASA to improve the productivity of crop plant breeding programmes.
Here Oscar Gonzalez from the Quadram Institute blogs about his role in this project. Oscar worked with colleagues from the John Innes “Centre, the Earlham Institute and the University of Oxford to develop a low-cost benchtop plant growth chamber.
Oscar’s first degree was in Biotechnology Engineering, in his home country of Mexico. Following a Masters in Natural Research, Oscar studied for a PhD in crop genetics at the John Innes Centre, before joining the Quadram Institute as a postdoctoral research working with Brittany Hazard. This combination of expertise and experience in different disciplines was crucial to the project.
“A group of us with an interest in do-it-yourself projects were interested in trying to develop a low-cost convenient way of growing plants on the bench in the lab. Growth chambers exist, but are quite large and expensive, and of course there are large glasshouses, but we were also interested in the practicality of small-scale experiments. That’s when we decided to apply for an OpenPlant Fund and develop our own open-hardware. Thanks to the multidisciplinary team we put together, this project has grown beyond our dreams.
“People were a bit surprised about how much I knew about engineering. I was able to go back to what I’d learned on my degree and with some extra research I was able to apply that to this project. Up until now I hadn’t really applied my engineering skills so the project was a great way to combine that with my current work.”
“Around the same time Sreya Ghosh from the John Innes Centre was working on speed-breeding, and after talking together we thought that it would be great to mix the technologies and develop speed-breeding in a desktop growth chamber.”
“All of the team members believe strongly in the open source model, so that new developments aren’t limited to countries that have the most resources. The Open Source communities are also very helpful, so we were able to engage with them via internet forums and benefit from their troubleshooting experience.”
“I’m already looking to use our cabinets in my own research. I work with Brittany Hazard, who is a joint appointment between the Quadram Institute and the John Innes Centre. Our group is looking at ways of improving the nutritional content of wheat. We want to introduce interesting genes into modern cultivars through a breeding programme. Using glasshouses we could have 2 or maybe 3 generations of wheat each year, but in the speed breeding cabinet we can have six generations, so this could really increase our productivity.”
“There’s been lots of interest from other research groups in using the technology since we published it. What’s really been nice is to see how there’s been interest from outside of science in it, including from gardeners and farmers.”
Reference: Speed breeding in growth chambers and glasshouses for crop breeding and model plant research, Sreya Ghosh et al, Nature Protocols volume 13, pages 2944–2963 (2018) doi: 10.1038/s41596-018-0072-z
To find out more, please the John Innes Centre website