Aston University, Birmingham – 21 January 2013 – Editors: Thomas F. Döring, Sally A. Howlett, Louisa R. Winkler, Martin S. Wolfe, published March 2013 by The Organic Research Centre, Hamstead Marshall, UK
Evolutionary plant breeding has a long history, but has so far not become part of mainstream breeding research, nor has it been implemented in practice to any substantial degree.
However, over the last decade, research in evolutionary plant breeding has markedly intensified. For example, there are currently major research projects on-going in this area, including the EU funded project SOLIBAM, the Wheat Breeding LINK project in the UK, and the Danish Biobreed project. Also, a new 3-year international research project called COBRA on this topic is due to start in March 2013. Funded by the CORE Organic 2 Eranet the project brings together over 40 partner organizations from 18 European countries. In addition, interest in evolutionary plant breeding is growing among farmers, breeders and policy makers. In fact, there are currently encouraging developments in the imminent revision of seed legislation in Europe that could lead to more room for evolutionary plant breeding approaches in the future.
This renewed interest in evolutionary plant breeding is partly due to the recognition that mainstream plant breeding is limited in terms of its engagement with end users, i.e. farmers and growers. More urgently however, effects of climate change on agricultural production have become more noticeable and there is also a growing awareness of increasing resource constraints; together, these will create more stressful growing conditions for agricultural crops. With this background, it is now being recognized that crops need to be able to cope with more variable, contrasting, fluctuating, and generally more unpredictable growing conditions.
To be able to deal with this large and increasing environmental variability, plant breeding needs to become more decentralized and diversified. Evolutionary plant breeding offers great potential in this respect. The contributions collated from this symposium explore this potential as well as the limitations of evolutionary plant breeding. While they only show a part of the on-going research activities in Europe, we hope that these proceedings provide inspiration both for further research and for implementation in practice.