'Speed breeding' in Australia can quicken life cycles of food crops

VIDEO: REUTERS

(REUTERS) - Australian scientists are taking their cue from space for a new method of shortening plant breeding cycles.

When experts at the University of Queensland saw NASA using continuous light to trick wheat into rapidly growing in space, they wanted to try the same thing on earth

They use LED lights continuously for 22 hours a day, triggering early reproduction in the plants - a technique they call 'speed breeding'.

Dr Lee Hickey, from the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation and University of Queensland senior research fellow, said: "We can go from seed to seed in just six weeks for wheat, barley and it works for a whole bunch of other crops that we grow on a big scale in Australia and other countries around the world like chick pea or canola. And what it means is we can achieve up to six generations per year instead of just one in the field."

Researchers say the quality and yield of the plants grown under these conditions is just as good if not better than in regular glasshouses.

They are analysing how to integrate speed breeding with the latest in genomics and modern crop breeding technology.

The hope is that they'll be able to use the technique to help feed the nine billion mouths set to be on the planet by 2050.