Agri Business

A game changer in crop hybridisation, genetics

MR Subramani Chennai | Updated on October 01, 2014 Published on October 01, 2014

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Growers across the world can have a choice of preferred traits of a crop

A fully computerised machine which can chip seeds of crops such as maize, soyabean, cotton, wheat is changing the game of genetics and hybridisation globally.

The machine, called seed chipper and aided by robots, is helping to examine the genetical make-up of crops in a shorter period of time that it is resulting in seed and bio-technology companies to come up with new seed varieties at a faster clip.

Modus operandi

This is how the chipper works: seeds taken from plants are poured into a funnel in the machine, which are then passed through a computer to find out the exact location of the embryo to ensure that it doesn’t get damaged during the chipping process.

The robotic arm then ensures that the seed is placed perfectly for a chip, which then goes straight into a chamber of tray that can hold 96 such samples. Each tray is barcoded and then put in a shelf by a robot, which later picks the samples for testing of their DNAs (Deoxyribonucleic acids), RNAs (Ribonucleic acids) and other such traits.

The results of the tests are then examined and the seeds from which a planter’s preferred traits are found are then identified, injected on to a seed with another preferred train and sown for getting a new variety of the plant.

Patent holder

US bio-tech firm Monsanto holds the patent for the machine and is using it to capacity in its research and development activities.

Though other companies have also come up with similar findings, Monsanto claims they haven’t tasted the success that it has so far.

The chipper chops a small faction of a crop’s seed without damaging its embryo so that the seed can be planted on the field.

Not just that, it can also help examine almost all seeds a plant produces to find out various genes and traits present in different seeds.

For example, an ear of corn contains 600 kernels and each kernel’s characteristics differ from one another.

What the seed chipper does in this case is that it helps examine all the 600 kernels and help plant breeders pick up the one that have the desired traits such as immunity towards pests, disease or drought.

Earlier, plant breeders had to grow a crop on a farm and then had to examine their leaves to find out its various features.

In such experiments, only five per cent of the crop was found to have the desirable characteristics.

The rest had to be destroyed, according to a Monsanto spokesman.

Inherent advantage

This also limited research and development in that the activities could be done only when the crop grew.

But with the seed chipper, breeders will grow only the crop with desired characteristics. Also, they can test huge volume of seeds with the machine.

“Last year, we examined 13 million seeds which in normal course of time will take over 10 years,” says a Monsanto spokesman.

Thanks to the seed chipper, growers across the world can now have a choice of preferred traits of a crop to grow.

In India, Monsanto is using the chipper at its Bangalore centre for testing maize, soyabean and wheat.

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Published on October 01, 2014
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