Genomic Selection Brings Big Benefits to Breeders

- Farhad Ghavami

Genomic selection is a new form of marker-assisted selection, which has primarily been used by large companies … but that’s changing. As the technology becomes more affordable, mid-size companies are also starting to see its value.

Recently, the cost of DNA sequencing has dropped drastically giving more plant breeders access to more marker panels and platforms to cost-effectively genotype a large number of samples. These improved breeding platforms allow for new varieties to be brought to market faster and cheaper. Two such platforms are array-based genotyping and genotyping by sequencing.

Traditionally, many selections in breeding programs were made based on plant phenotypic evaluation or taking the result of a few trait-linked markers into account for quality, disease and pest resistance.

With the new technologies being used, genomic selection allows breeders to simultaneously consider the effect of all the markers in the genome to calculate the Genomic Estimated Breeding Value (GEBV), and select a few individual plants for phenotypic selection in the field.

We no longer have to select for individual traits in our breeding programs but instead can select based on breeding value — the combination of all the traits that add value to the breeder. With one test, we get all the answers we need to make our selection.

Genomic selection makes the process of selection easy and can also shorten the breeding cycles. So even with a limited budget, a breeder can afford to run several breeding programs at the same time by planting only 20 to 30 percent of good progenies in the field rather than planting everything and selecting them phenotypically.

This, in turn, helps companies determine the viability of a specific variety. Phenotype-based selection sometimes requires extra steps and resources, which add to the cost and time of breeding. In other words, we get more information at a lower cost, and sometimes we can even speed up the breeding program.