Agricultural GeneticsUnderstanding and improving plants and animals for food and agriculture

Launched December 2013 Updated July 2014 16 lectures

Agriculture is essential to the supply of human food and many non-food products. The development of agriculture facilitated the establishment of permanent human settlements, allowed a massive expansion of human populations and the development of modern complex human societies.... read more

The growth in human populations and their growing affluence is creating an ongoing increase in demand for food and other products from agriculture. Modern consumers seek food that has desirable health benefits and satisfies their desires for eating to deliver an enjoyable experience. Sustainable agriculture to satisfy this demand requires large increases in agricultural productivity.

There are two possible approaches to achieve sustainable food production; improvement in the performance of the plants and animals used in agriculture and better management of the growth and processing of these plants and animals. Both these approaches are essential for a sustainable future for human populations. Varieties of plants and animals with potential to deliver the required productivity have been developed by genetic selection and breeding. This was not necessarily a conscious process in early domestications for agriculture, however in more recent times this process has become more deliberate especially as science and technology has provided a growing understanding of agricultural organisms.

Advances in molecular genetics are allowing whole genome analysis of species used in agriculture and the rapid advances in this area of science provide important tools to meet the great global challenge of sustainable food supply. The study of the origins of agriculture and the processes and consequences of domesticating plants and animals for agriculture provide important knowledge to guide the required further development of agriculture. Advances in understanding of heterosis (hybrid vigor) and the role of epigenetics in agriculture will also contribute. Tools for delivering the organisms for future agriculture include DNA sequencing, molecular screening, targeted mutagenesis and transgenic organism development.