Breeding definitions for non-experts

(Note that these definitions are to help increase understanding for those not familiar with plant breeding science. They may lack nuance or precision for technical documents or audiences)


Biofortification: This involves breeding crops to increase their nutritional value, such as developing rice varieties with higher vitamin A content to combat malnutrition.

Crossbreeding: This involves crossing (mating) plants from two different varieties to produce offspring with desirable traits from both parents, like improved yield or disease resistance.

Double Haploid: This technique produces plants that have two identical sets of chromosomes, speeding up the breeding process by achieving uniformity and stability in crop traits. The doubled haploid is the genotype formed when haploid cells undergo chromosome doubling.

Gene Editing: A precise method where specific genes in a plant's DNA are directly altered to achieve desired traits, such as increased drought tolerance or pest resistance, without introducing foreign genes.

Genetic Gain: The improvement in desired traits in a plant population over time, achieved through selective breeding.

Genetic Modification: This is the process of altering a plant's genotype (the sum of its individual genes) and hence its genetic "blueprint", to give the plant new traits, like resistance to pests or herbicides.

Genomic Selection: This technique uses information from the plant's entire genome to predict which plants will have the best traits, allowing breeders to select the best candidates for breeding more efficiently. It predicts the value of an offspring in a population by selecting genetic markers across the genome associated with key traits (e.g. resistance to pests)

Heritability: A measure of how much of the variation in a trait is due to genetic factors, which helps breeders predict how effectively they can improve that trait through breeding.

Hybrids: The result of crossbreeding two different plant varieties, often resulting in offspring that are stronger, more productive, or more resilient than either parent.

Molecular Marker-Assisted Breeding: This method uses molecular markers—specific sequences in the plant's DNA—to identify and select plants with desirable traits, speeding up the breeding process.

Phenotyping: The process of observing and measuring plant characteristics, such as height, yield, and disease resistance, to select the best performing varieties for breeding.

Pre-Breeding: The process of introducing new traits from wild or less commonly used plants into breeding programs to create a broader genetic base for developing new crop varieties.

Target Population of Environments (TPEs): TPEs are the specific geographic regions or environments where a new crop variety is intended to be grown, which helps breeders develop and select varieties suited to those specific conditions.

Trait Discovery and Deployment: Trait discovery involves identifying new, beneficial traits in plants, while deployment refers to incorporating these traits into new crop varieties through breeding programs.

Traits: Characteristics of plants, such as height, color, drought tolerance, or disease resistance, that breeders aim to improve through various breeding techniques.

Transgenic Breeding: This technique involves inserting genes from one species into another to give the new plant desirable traits, such as pest resistance or improved nutrition.

Variety Turnover: The process of replacing older plant varieties with new varieties that have better performance, such as higher yields or better resistance to drought or diseases.


(CGIAR, May 2024. For suggested edits and addtions, contact