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2
History of plant breeding

Purpose and expected outcomes
Agriculture is a human invention that continues to impact society and the environment. The players on this stage
advanced the industry with innovation, technology, and knowledge available to them during their era. The tools
and methods used by plant breeders have been developed and advanced through the years. There are milestones in
plant breeding technology as well as accomplishments by plant breeders over the years. In this chapter, individuals
(or groups of people) whose contributions to knowledge, theoretical or practical, have impacted on what has become
known in the modern era as plant breeding will be spotlighted. After studying this chapter, the student should
be able to:
1 List and describe the contributions of some of the people through history whose discoveries laid the foundation
for modern plant breeding.
2 Describe the contributions of Mendel to modern plant breeding.
3 Discuss the advances in plant breeding technologies.

2.1 Origins of agriculture and
plant breeding
In its primitive form, plant breeding started after the
invention of agriculture, when people of primitive
cultures switched from a lifestyle of hunter–gatherers
to sedentary producers of selected plants and animals.
Views of agricultural origins range from the mythological to ecological. The Fertile Crescent in the Middle East is believed to be the cradle of agriculture,
where deliberate tilling of the soil, seeding and harvesting occurred over 10 000 years ago. This lifestyle
change did not occur overnight but was a gradual

process during which plants were transformed from
being independent, wild progenitors, to fully dependent (on humans) and domesticated varieties. Agriculture is generally viewed as an invention and
discovery. During this period humans also discovered
the time-honored and most basic plant breeding technique – selection, the art of discriminating among
biological variation in a population to identify and
pick desirable variants. Selection implies the existence
of variability.
In the beginnings of plant breeding, the variability
exploited was the naturally occurring variants and
wild relatives of crop species. Furthermore, selection

Principles of Plant Genetics and Breeding, Second Edition. George Acquaah.
Ó 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Published 2012 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.