Plant Breeding Derailed

How did the intellectual curiosity that led to hybrid seed production end up confining plant breeding to a straightjacket? In a 2002 Seeds of Change interview, Dr. John Navazio illuminates the historical, political, and practical dimensions of hybrid seed production versus breeding open pollinated (OP) varieties. In doing so, Navazio reveals how the economic concerns of the seed industry, rather than scientific rigor or the public interest, have determined the trajectory of academic plant breeding for decades, with its narrow focus on breeding for industrial agriculture and its reliance on hybrids and, more recently, genetic engineering. He discusses the radical philosophical implications and the on-the-ground practicalities of breeding specifically for organic farming, working directly with farmers, and of selecting for complex traits, rather than focusing on specific genes. As relevant now as it was when he gave it, Navazio’s interview can be accessed on the Bioscience Resource Project’s Agriculture resource page as: “Plant Breeding for the Future: A Breeder’s View of Hybrid Seed and Open Pollenated Varieties.” A more recent article: Debunking the Hybrid Myth, discusses the pros and cons of hybrids and OPs, and why seed companies favor hybrids. It is valuable to read both articles. Navazio is Senior Scientist at the non-profit Organic Seed Alliance (OSA). OSA uses a combination of public education, advocacy, and farmer assisted breeding in its work to preserve and promote agricultural genetic diversity as a public good.