Climate change

How are new varieties of plants registered and why?

You may see a new variety of vegetable at the grocery store, for example an unusual new lettuce or apple. There are other important new varieties of crops that don’t show up on grocery shelves as fruits and vegetables. Food products like grains are usually used as ingredients in other foods, like crackers, cereal, and bread. And one grain crop that is gaining recognition in the United States is sorghum.

What type of steps took for it to arrive in the produce section of your grocery? Lots of steps – starting with crop breeders. We’ll use the registration of new varieties of sorghum to explain the process.

Sorghum is the fifth most widely grown cereal grain species in the world.  It was originally domesticated as a grain crop in Africa. Since then, it has spread across the globe as a grain, forage, sugar, and industrial crop. 

two different types of sorghum crops in field
Foreground: black colored grain sorghum from the Onyx hybrid. Background: red and white colored sorghum hybrids Credit: William Rooney

Grain sorghum is used directly as a human food staple in Africa and some parts of Asia. In the Americas and Australia, it has been used primarily as a feed grain. However there has been significant growth in grain sorghum in specialty food products such as gluten-free and health foods. 

Sorghum is highly productive in optimum environments, but it more commonly grown in less-than-ideal environments where drought and heat stress are common. Consequently, United States grain sorghum production is most common in Kansas and Texas. Forage production is more widely spread across the country where it is produced for hay, grazing and silage. 

Sorghum improvement programs are strategically located around the world in regions where sorghum is produced. The goal of these breeding programs is to increase the productivity and improve the quality of the crop while protecting that production and quality against drought, diseases, and insects.   

In the US, sorghum is grown as either an inbred or hybrid cultivars. In areas where infrastructure is limited, inbred cultivars are produced which allow growers to save seed for planting in the next season.  In other regions, hybrid cultivars predominate because they have higher yield potential, but they require farmers to purchase seed annually.

Fifteen researchers standing in field of sorghum with sky in background
The team at Texas A&M Agrilife Research Sorghum Improvement Program standing in field trials of sorghum varieties. Credit: TAMU staff

The Texas A&M Agrilife Research Sorghum Improvement Program develops new sorghum inbred lines that are used to produce hybrids.  New inbred lines can be licensed by commercial companies to produce and sell these hybrids.  Lines from this program are release by Texas A&M Agrilife Research and then registered in the Journal of Plant Registrations

Registration is important, especially for public sector plant breeding programs. First, publication in a peer-reviewed journal is important academically and professionally. Second, publication publicly announces the release and availability of new germplasm from the program. Finally, registration requires the deposit of seed of each registered line in the USDA National Plant Germplasm System. Researchers wanting to use new varieties in their breeding line can apply to get seed (or germplasm) for their laboratory.

In the past year, our program has registered nine new inbred lines that possess unique quality characteristics that are rare in elite sorghum germplasm.

side by side photos of un-popped and popped sorghum seeds with 7 different varieties in each photo
Crop breeders at Texas A&M Agrilife Research Sorghum Improvement Program recently published a Journal of Plant Registrations paper about new types of sorghum with good popping quality. Credit: Mitchell Kent

The first set of six pollinator lines (designated as Tx3483 to Tx3488) produce hybrids with good yield and they possess waxy endosperm. This trait is of interest to specialty markets like cereal processing and distilled spirits. This is because the waxy trait creates sorghum that can be processed faster and digested better than normal sorghum grains. So, these first new lines of sorghum we released focused on the waxy trait and are adapted to the Texas and Kansas growing environments.

The second registration details the development of two pollinator lines (Tx3489 and Tx3490) that can be used to produce grain sorghum hybrids with improved popping quality. Popped sorghum has increased in popularity and is now sold commercially for home popping, as popped snack food and as an ingredient in other processed foods such as granola bars. These lines produced hybrids with similar agronomic performance and superior popping performance.

Answered by William Rooney, Texas A&M Agrilife Research Sorghum Improvement Program.  This research was published earlier in 2021 in Journal of Plant Registrations.

About us: This blog is sponsored and written by members of the American Society of Agronomy and Crop Science Society of America. Our members are researchers and trained, certified, professionals in the areas of growing our world’s food supply while protecting our environment. We work at universities, government research facilities, and private businesses across the United States and the world.

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