Digital imaging tools make maize breeding much more efficient

To keep up with growing maize demand, breeders aim at optimizing annual yield gain under various stress conditions, like drought or low fertility soils. To that end, they identify the genetic merit of each individual plant, so they can select the best ones for breeding.

To improve that process, researchers at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) are looking at cost-effective ways to assess a larger number of maize plants and to collect more accurate data related to key plant characteristics. Plant phenotyping looks at the interaction between the genetic make-up of a plant with the environment, which produces certain characteristics or traits. In maize, for example, this may manifest in different leaf angles or ear heights.

Recent innovations in digital imagery and sensors save money and time in the collection of data related to phenotyping. These technologies, known as high-throughput phenotyping platforms, replace lengthy paper-based visual observations of crop trials.