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Myth Busters - A Game of Speed

Published on Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Have you ever heard the saying a “needle in a haystack”? A great corn hybrid starts by making a great inbred. So to create the best inbreds, researchers at Beck’s dive into the genetic “haystack” of every plant to identify the best “needles” or characteristics.

Hi, I am Jenni Taller, lab manager at Beck’s. I would like to welcome you back to our Beck’s Research: Myth Busters blog series. Last week, Dr. Keith Rufener talked about Beck’s propriety inbred development program. As a regional company, it is assumed that we aren't able to produce products as quickly as other big companies with breeding programs. But the truth is we’re right up there with the rest of them. Today, our senior research scientist, Asha Palta and I will be discussing the tools we use to assist Keith and our other corn breeders in the journey of creating new products.


MYTH: “Beck’s isn’t as quick at developing products as other big companies with breeding programs.”

BUSTED: When speed is the name of the game, it is our goal to get the best product into the bag as quickly as possible. Along with dihaploid breeding, two other tools we use in the research department are Molecular Markers and Embryo Rescue.

While Dr. Rufener and Beck's other corn breeders are evaluating potential inbred parents for hybrid combinations in the field, we utilize our Molecular Marker Lab to provide them with additional information on that inbred. Much like humans, every plant has a unique genetic profile. In plants, this profile is consistent through its entire lifecycle. The molecular marker lab allows us to link the genetic code to a particular characteristic, such as the color of the kernel. Once this is linked, we’re able to isolate the DNA and screen for specific characteristics when the plants are only 10 or 12 days old. This helps make the decisions of which inbred to advance to the next level of testing or to release into a production situation.


Another way we utilize the molecular marker lab is to assist in the trait conversion program. The trait conversion team is given a specific inbred in which to incorporate important agronomic traits, such as root worm resistance. The goal is to transfer this resistance into the inbred without disrupting it’s ability to combine and contribute to a highly productive hybrid. The most efficient way to do this is to use the genetic profile of the inbred as the target for all traited plants. When comparing the orginial, untraited inbred to the new traited progeny, we can select the plants that closely match the genetics of the original plant. 

The combination of the technologies available in the Molecular Marker Lab, the Tissue Culture Lab and Embryo Rescue assist the trait conversion team in accelerating the process. Let’s hear more about embryo rescue from Asha.

Hi, Asha here. Nearly three years ago, Beck’s implemented the embryo rescue process to speed up trait conversion and bring new products to our customers much faster.

Embryo rescue is just like growing plants from seed that farmers would plant in the field except that we do not have to wait for the seed to mature. We can take the developing embryos at 14 to 17 days after pollination and grow them on nutrient media to form plants, thus speeding up the life cycle. Just as the soil provides all the nutrients for seed in the field, the nutrient media provides all the nutrition for the embryo to grow into a plant. 

Speeding up the growth cycle allows us to reduce the time at each generation by 30 to 40 days. We are able to run four generations per year in the greenhouse as compared to three generations with the regular process of growing from seed. 


By combining embryo rescue and the molecular marker lab, we can reduce the trait conversion process from 770 days to 395 days. Ultimately, that means we’re able to deliver new, high-quality hybrids to our customers at a much faster rate.

The myth that Beck’s is slower than our competitors? BUSTED. (And we all know you can’t bust a myth without an explosion.)



We hope this has helped explain more about our ability to compete with other breeding programs in the industry. Stay tuned until next week to hear more about trait introgression and our greenhouses from Beck’s greenhouse manager, Kevin Colbert.

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Jenni Taller & Asha Palta

Jenni Taller & Asha Palta

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