Eurasian Center for the Design of Breakthrough Yields Plant Varieties

Posted 3 years ago
Written by Viktor Dragavtsev
Eurasian Center for the Design of Breakthrough Yields Plant Varieties
In the period 1984-2012 V. A. Dragovtsev created and developed the theory of the ecological and genetic organization of a quantitative trait (TEGOQT) and investigated 24 consequences from it, which revealed significant omissions in traditional systems of plant breeding for productivity and yield.

The main conclusion of the theory: 

When the environmental factor that limits plant growth (lim-factor) changes, the spectrum and number of genes that determine the same quantitative trait changes. It is this mechanism that gives rise to the phenomenon of "genotype-environment" interaction, which is expressed in the change of productivity ranks in a set of varieties growing alternately in two or more than two environments. It became clear that for scientific management of productivity and yield, it is necessary to simultaneously control the spatial diversity and temporal dynamics of environmental lim-factors and the diversity of responses of plant genetic and physiological systems to the change of lim-factors in ontogenesis. This can only be done in a specially designed breeding phytotron, where breeding technologies have very significant advantages and high efficiency.  

The following most important priority consequences are obtained from the theory of the ecological and genetic organization of a quantitative trait (TEGOQT).

1. When the environmental factor limiting plant growth changes, the spectrum and number of genes determining the same quantitative trait change. It is experimentally proved that such quantitative characteristics as the "intensity of transpiration" and the "intensity of photosynthesis" are determined, respectively, alternately by two and three genetic systems during the day.

2. If varieties have similar productivity characteristics against a background without environmental limits, then against a background of, for example, drought, all the productivity characteristics of these varieties are determined by the drought resistance polygenes and "write" on themselves the differences in the contributions of these polygenes to the productivity characteristics. Against the background of cold, these same signs are determined by cold resistance polygenes. 

3. For quantitative traits that are subjected to the phenomenon of "genotype-environment" interaction, it is impossible to obtain a stable "passport", genetic characteristic for all environments.

4. Against the background of different environmental lim-factors, the genetic determinations of the trait (spectrum and number of genes) will be different, the donor qualities of varieties will change, so the selection technologies should also be different, starting with the selection of parent pairs for hybridization.

TEGOQT revealed the reasons why "the transformation of wild plant species into agricultural ones occurred without any application of the achievements of modern genetics and any ideas of Mendelian genetics. Modern plant breeders successfully apply basically the same strategy" [Recombinant molecules: significance for science and practice (book). - M.: Mir, 1980, p. 270]. It became clear why "no significant correlation was found between the final yield and the efficiency of any particular biochemical pathway" [ibid, p. 275].

From the point of view of TEGOQT, for a sharp increase in the efficiency of selection for economically important traits, it is necessary to create a special breeding phytotron, which allows you to "deduce" all 8 ecological and genetic systems with the necessary lim-factor at any stage of ontogenesis of parents and hybrids, and to assess the nature of the "opposition" of this phase (by the level of the trait) to the lim-factor-stressor. In addition, in the phytotron, you can program the dynamics of the lim-factors of the environment of a typical year for any breeding zone on Earth, which will allow you to purposefully create the most productive varieties for any zones of the Globe.

The result of the work of TEGOQT was the creation of several Know-How of high innovative technologies for ecological and genetic (field and phytotronic) improvement of plant productivity properties, as well as the need for phytotronic selection.


 1. Typification of the dynamics of lim-factors of the environment for each breeding zone and plant species based on priority algorithms.

 2. Forecasts of the occurrence of transgressions and methods for selecting the best parent pairs based on the deciphered nature of transgressions. 

3. Methods of express evaluation of the additivity of the action of genetic and physiological systems for the creation of pre-varieties and varieties. 

4. Methods for predicting environmentally dependent heterosis and scientific selection of parent pairs for heterosis breeding. 

5. Methods for predicting the effects of the "genotype-environment" interaction using algorithms for analyzing the typical dynamics of lim-factors in ontogenesis. 

6. Methods for predicting genotypic, genetic (additive), and environmental correlations and optimal methods for selecting the best genotypes based on these predictions. 

7. Theory and new principles of constructing selection indices (from the standpoint of TEGOQT), and new methods of selection by indices, taking into account the typical dynamics of lim-factors of the environment in different geographical locations. 

8. Methods for identifying genotypes by their phenotypes using the principle of background traits and algorithms for "orthogonal" identification by the final (resulting) signs of productivity and by component signs at different phases of ontogenesis. 

9. Methods for creating starting working collections of breeding centers for each  breeding zone of the world. 

10. Methods for creating core collections in plant genetic resources banks. 

Phytotron breeding and its advantages.

In the phytotron, the efficiency of identification (recognition) of the single most valuable genotypes in splitting populations can be increased hundreds of times.

The world-wide system of organizing plant breeding for the genetic improvement of complex economically valuable traits places breeding centers in breeding zones – regions in which the environmental conditions (as expected) are on average sufficiently uniform, so that a new variety is able to overtake the previous one in productivity and yield on the territory of this zone on average (standard) variety. However, the DIAS (diallel crossing) program showed that the shifts in the genetic parameters of the DIAS population are much higher at each geographical point from year to year than their differences between different points in one year. This means that if the selection year in F2 was not a typical year for this breeding zone, then all the work of the breeder on the selection of pairs for crossing, labor-intensive volume crosses and growing of F1 (the first hybrid generation) is actually lost. The traditional structure of the system of placing breeding centers in crop production zones arose because genetics could not explain to breeders the mechanism of genotype - environment interaction – the most important phenomenon of increasing the yield in any particular breeding zone. The lack of fundamental knowledge about the nature of genotype - environment interaction and the lack of methods for its prediction and management have led to a situation where even very experienced and well-deserved breeders, trying to maximize the contribution of the genotype - environment interaction effect to crop growth, use today the same technology of visual selection by the phenotypic level of the trait, which was used 10 thousand years ago by a primitive woman, coming out of a cave and selecting ears of corn in an adjacent field of millet or wheat. The technology of increasing the contribution of genotype - environment interaction to productivity and yield has not undergone any modernization by genetics, ecology, physiology and other sciences over the past 147 years (this is the age of modern genetics).

Having gone into the depths of molecular biology, these sciences have moved away from studying the nature of genotype - environment interaction, transgressions, genotypic and other correlations, that is, from working on problems whose solutions are urgently needed by humanity. I cannot but quote the famous agricultural geneticist J. L. Brubaker: “More than half of the population of our fertile Land has too little food, and even a very deep knowledge of the gene gives little comfort to hungry people, as long as it is not expressed in calories.” From the standpoint of TEGOQT, significant shortcomings of the traditional structure of modern plant breeding systems are clearly visible.

1. The selection year from the F2 (or M2) population for each breeder can be either typical (according to the dynamics of lim-factors of the environment) for a given selection zone, or atypical. In an atypical year, the best phenotypes will be formed by those genotypes that "fit" in a typical year. By selecting the best phenotypes in an atypical year and rejecting the plants remaining in the F2 plots, the breeder will lose all the best genotypes that can give the greatest yield in a typical year. All the work on the selection of pairs for crossing, the most laborious crossing (thousands of combinations), growing F1 and F2 is wasted.

The discrepancy between the selection year and the typical year for this breeding zone reduces the efficiency of the selection process by 3-4 times, since in an atypical year, other genotypes will show the maximum productivity (products of other genes will "come out" on the trait), and not those that in a typical year will give the maximum effect of genotype - environment interaction in productivity.  

Typical years, which are usually 4 to 6 in each decade, allow the breeder to use an average of only 5 summers out of 10. Winter is not used, but it is a season, meaning the breeder only works 5 seasons out of 20. If the selections from the field are transferred to the phytotron, where, literally by turning the handles, you can create a typical year for any point on Earth and any breeding zone, and apply our principle of background traits to identify genotypes during selection (which increases the reliability of "recognizing" the genotypes of individual plants up to 1000 times), and the selection process itself is accelerated by 4 times by creating typical dynamics of lim-factors of the environment for the phases of ontogenesis for a specific selection zone, then you can increase the final efficiency of selection several times.

2. A. S. Serebrovsky emphasized: "For the geneticist-analyst, the main interest is the features of the genotypic framework of the population, and all his efforts should be directed to exposing this framework from the paratypic mantle that covers it." When selected in the field "genotypic framework" of the F2 population is covered not only by the "paratypical mantle", that is, environmental noise (EN), which usually accounts for 70-80% of the phenotypic variability (genotypic variability is usually about 10-30%). In the F2 plots, there is also genotypic competitive noise (GCN) and environmental competitive noise (ECN). 

Their values exceed 4-10 times the genotypic variability that the breeder needs to "see" during selection. Estimates of the resolution of visual selections in the field were made by P. P. Litun. On average, this is 0.01%, that is, the breeder, having selected 10,000 plants according to the phenotype, will get one genetically really valuable. 

Our scientific school has created priority principles for reliable identification of genotypes by phenotypes in splitting populations:

 1. the principle of background features (included in the Encyclopedia of Basic Life Science, New York, London, Boston), which can increase the reliability of identification up to 1,000 times.

 2. the principle of "orthogonal" identification, which works with even greater efficiency, and the principle of metameric identification for coniferous monopodial trees.

When identifying the best genotypes and selecting them from the F2 populations in the phytotron, it is easy to remove the noise of GCN and ECN by seeding F2 grains in cassettes with vertical tubes that isolate the plant roots from each other and reduce the EN by carefully mixing and leveling the substrate. This will dramatically increase the efficiency of the background traits principle. In the field, using background traits, P. P. Litun [Litun P.P. Report at the 4th All-Union Congress of VOGIS. February 2, 1982 Chisinau] raised the efficiency of selecting unique genotypes from 0.01 to 15%. In the phytotron, the efficiency of genotype identification based on the principle of background traits can be increased to 80-90%. In cassettes, you can evaluate the genetic tolerance to agrocenosis thickening for individual plants F2, in the field, this work can be done only in F5–F6, when it becomes possible to organize plots with a density gradient, which requires a large number of seeds in each family and a loss of time up to F6 (4 years). In the phytotron, you can easily organize a single lim-factor of the external environment (acting for the desired period of time) in any phase of ontogenesis, and against its background select a background trait with the most effective resolution to identify genetic systems that "oppose" this lim-factor.

Thus, a "library" of background traits will gradually be formed for the precise identification of the most valuable genetic systems that increase the yield. In the field, it is impossible to organize such work in principle.

3. In modern open-ground crop production, there are still no methods for strict identification of lim-factors of the environment acting at different phases of plant ontogenesis. For closed systems, including fermenters and for closed ground in growth chambers, A. G. Degermendzhi, N. S. Pechurkin, and A. N. Shkidchenko developed a good formalized theory and algorithms for identifying the lim-factor by alternately "swaying" each of the environmental factors in a closed system. In principle, this makes it possible to select the necessary ecological and genetic systems for each phase of ontogenesis against the background of the typical dynamics of lim-factors in a particular breeding zone. "Phase" selection will allow you to create varieties that exceed the standard yield not by 3-4 dt/ha, but by 8-12 dt/ha or more.

4. Each breeder, for example, working with wheat, annually organizes 1000 crosses and more. This is due to the fact that until recently, the ecological and genetic structure of transgressions was not deciphered and there was no strict theory of the selection of parental pairs for hybridization.

Now the mechanism of transgressions is deciphered, the theory of matching pairs is basically created, so now it is enough to reliably obtain transgressions to cross not 1000 varieties, but only 5-parents who have passed strict ecological and genetic selection. This means that it is possible to reduce the volume of hybridization by 200 times compared to traditional field selection.

5. In the field, when breeding for precocity, the short phases of ontogenesis (for example, the "exit into the tube" and "earing" phases) proceed so quickly that it is almost impossible to measure their genetic polymorphism and reliably select pairs for crossing: one parent - with the shortest "exit into the tube" phase», the other - with the shortest "earing" phase. Works by G. A. Makarova [Makarova G.A. Inheritance of the duration of interphase periods of ontogenesis of spring wheat in connection with selection for early maturity // Agricultural biology. - 1996. - No 1. - P. 23–31] showed the ability to "stretch" these phases in closed ground conditions, clearly see them and create genotypes that are 10-12 days more precocious than the parent varieties of durum wheat.

6. In the phytotron, you can create any types and levels of salinity and acidity of the soil, which is very difficult to implement in field experiments. For example, the International Center of the Advisory Group on Agricultural Research "ICARDA" (Syria), together with KazAgroInnovation JSC, recently organized a project for the selection of barley for salt resistance, drought resistance and resistance to spring frosts near Kzyl-Orda. The main method is the diagnosis of salt and drought resistance at the early stages of growth and development in phytotron chambers using markers of high productivity.

7. In the phytotron, it is easy to influence plants with ultraviolet light, simulating the effect of "ozone holes", which cannot be done in the field. Selection for plant resistance to ultraviolet light is declared a worldwide urgent problem by the FAO UN.

8. In the phytotron, selection can be strictly quantified to increase the release of allopathic substances by the roots of wheat, barley and other cereals, which inhibit and even kill weeds in the fields. This new direction of breeding is now being successfully implemented in Japan and China in specially designed phytotron chambers.

9. In the phytotron, experiments can be strictly organized on the interaction of gradients of soil lim-factors with meteorological ones, gradients of chemical and biological protection agents, gradients of infection with diseases and pests, etc.

10. Due to the artificial alignment of lim-factors (soil and meteorological) in the phytotron, the number of plants can be significantly reduced in repetitions and the number of repetitions themselves in the organization of the experiment, which will reduce the cost of the selection process.

11. Now many people on Earth, especially women and children, suffer from a lack of trace elements in their food. According to the Academy of Nutrition of Kazakhstan, more than one and a half million people in Kazakhstan are affected by iron deficiency anemia. Supplements of trace elements do not solve the problem; it is necessary to increase the natural content of trace elements in the grain. Recently, a biological (selection-genetic) approach to the natural increase in the content of trace elements in plants has been formulated. It was called "biofortification". The international program Harvest Plus has been launched under the auspices of the United Nations, the World Bank, and the Advisory Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). 

It is an alliance of 40 scientific organizations involved in the genetics and selection of agricultural crops (mainly cereals) to increase the content of trace elements. The International Wheat and Maize Center (CIMMYT, Mexico) is one of the leaders of this important program. The first stage is the study of the genetic variability of iron, zinc and beta-carotene content in wheat, rice, corn, millet, sorghum, potatoes, etc., the assessment of the genetic stability of the increased content of trace elements, the assessment of the interaction of "genotype environment" in relation to the characteristics of the content in grains of iron and zinc, evaluation of the "genotype-technology" interaction - based on the same characteristics. These works cannot be performed without a phytotron of a special design with the ability to accurately compile the trace element composition of the substrate.

12. Only in the phytotron, selection is possible for the ability of the genotype to produce a lot of high-quality products in closed ground with a lack of light (energy savings) and at low temperatures (fuel savings).

13. Only in the phytotron it is possible to study strictly quantitatively the genetics of mineral nutrition of plants and to conduct selection for high "payment" by the harvest of small doses of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and other elements of mineral nutrition. It is known that in the total cost of crop production, the cost of nitrogen fertilizers contribute about 50-60%. 

14. Only in the phytotron, when all the lim-factors of the external environment are removed, one can see purely morphological differences in the quantitative characteristics of the varieties. Comparing the level of an agronomically important trait of a given variety at a certain level of the lim-factor with the reference level of the same trait on an unlimited background, it is possible to obtain strict quantitative estimates of the decrease in the trait level, that is, to quantify the degree of adaptability of the variety to a given intensity of the lim-factor.

15. Only with the help of the selection phytotron, it is possible to organize feedback of the variety testing procedures with the breeder. For example, the breeder's new variety exceeded the standard by 5 dt/ha. In the phytotron, against the background of the typical dynamics of the lim-factors of the environment of this breeding zone, 7 productivity systems (attraction, microdistribution of plastic substances, adaptability, horizontal stability, "payment" of lim-factors of soil nutrition, tolerance to thickening and variability in the lengths of the ontogenesis phases) are quickly studied, and the seed breeder is informed, for example: “Dear breeder, the cold resistance of your new variety in the filling phase has increased, but the drought resistance in the tillering phase has decreased. 

The tillering phase is the most important one because at this phase the component of yield - “the number of grains per plant” begins to form. We increased the drought resistance of the tillering phase, and now your new variety presented yield - 30 dt / ha." So we very fast increased the drought resistance of the tillering phase in the phytotron and the new variety of the breed has a yield of 30 dt / ha instead of 21 dt/ ha”.

16. Only in the selection phytotron the collection of N. I. Vavilov All-Russian Institute of Plant Genetic Resources (VIR) can be effectively "shoveled" to detect the maximum effects of genotype - environment interaction for each breeding zone of any country and for each phase of ontogenesis of any culture. Today in VIR (as well as in the Russian Federation in general) there is no conveyor technology for evaluating specific donor qualities of varieties by agronomically important characteristics for typical years in different breeding zones.

17. Today, it is well known that global climate warming occurs on Earth not evenly over the entire surface of the Earth, but in "spots", for example, in Europe, the fastest "warming" is in the north of France and in the west of the Leningrad region of the Russian Federation. No one can foresee the picture of "spotting" in 40-50 years. If a specially designed breeding phytotron will be built today, it will be possible without delay, accurately and quickly to create the optimal variety of any type of agricultural plants or forest species for any climatic "spot".

18. In addition to a sharp increase in the efficiency of breeding, which can be provided by TEGOQT, humanity urgently needs food technologies of the 3rd generation, that is, direct nutrition with protein of plants, but not animals. If the soybean seed harvest collected from 1 ha is enough to feed one person for 5560 days, then a person can live only 193 days due to the meat produced by the cow that ate this seed crop. The energy wastefulness of animal husbandry is obvious. 

The transition of people to a direct diet of plant protein will increase food production on Earth by 3 times, reducing energy consumption by 6 times. Traditional food crops - wheat and corn (grain) - give 350 and 390 kg of protein from 1 ha, respectively, clover - 1000 kg, alfalfa and sainfoin – 1300-1500 kg. The proteins of these herbs are very valuable. The standard - soy protein - is almost equal in nutritional properties to the protein of human milk, and soy seeds contain almost twice as much protein as meat. It is very important that the price of nitrogen fertilizers contributes 50-60% to the cost of wheat and corn crops, and they are not needed for legumes. The improvement of legume proteins can be successfully carried out only in the phytotron, studying the effect of individual lim-factors on the quantity and quality of protein and their different combinations to accurately determine the optimal zones of plant protein production.

Due to the described two levers (new breeding phytotron technologies and food technologies of the 3rd generation), it is possible to provide high-quality food to more than 10 billion people, who will definitely appear on Earth by 2050.

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