29978 - Breeding of Herbaceous crops

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Zero hunger Decent work and economic growth Responsible consumption and production Life on land

Academic Year 2021/2022

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course the student gains the knowledge for planning a breeding program aimed at the selection of new varieties. In particular, the student can identify the breeding objectives and the most suitable breeding procedure in relation to the genetic structure of the source populations and to the environmental conditions in which the new varieties will be grown.

Course contents

A) Prerequisites

The students attending this course have to know the basic aspects of agricultural genetics, herbaceous crops, botany, statistics, entomology and plant pathology. Such a knowledge is provided by the courses followed in the previous three-years degree and by the courses held in the first year, first cycle of this two-years degree.

B) Teaching units

1. Introduction to planning a breeding program (4 hours)

Knowledge obtained in the teaching unit 1

The student understand the role of plant breeding in increasing yield the yield sustainability and for food crop quality and safety. The student knows the main aspect of planning a breeding project in function of its objective and the species biology.

2. Main DNA analysis tools applied to plant breeding (4 hours)

Knowledge obtained in the teaching unit 2

The student achieves basic knowledge of main morphological markers (descriptors), biochemical, and molecular markers useful for varietal and germplasm characterization and for conduction selection.

3. Genetic basis of variability: mutagenesis, transgenesis and gene editing (6 hours)

Knowledge obtained in the teaching unit 3

The student knows the main methods to acquire genetic variability useful for conduct a breeding program. Knows the main techniques to obtain variability for monogenic traits by means of mutagenesis, transgenesis and gene editing.

4. Genetic structure of populations: Genetic resources and germplasm collections (4 hours)

Knowledge obtained in the teaching unit 4

The student knows the principles of genetic structure in natural and artificial populations and the main methods for their study. The student knows how to collect and conserve plant genetic resources. The student know the basis of the use of biodiversity into plant breeding.

5. Response to selection and heritability of quantitative traits (6 hours)

Knowledge obtained in the teaching unit 2

The student can apply the analysis of variance in the study of quantitative traits and can partition the phenotypic variance into its components. The student knows the basis of response to selection for qualitative and quantitative traits. The student can estimate the heritability value and properly utilize this estimate in a breeding work.

6. Principles of genomic assisted plant breeding (4 hours)

Knowledge obtained in the teaching unit 6

The student knows basic methods for the use of molecular markers for quantitative trait loci (QTL) discovery. The student knows how to apply selections assisted by molecular markers (MAS) and genomic selection.

7. Breeding procedures for self-pollinated species (4 hours)

Knowledge obtained in the teaching unit 7

The student knows the genetic structure of the natural populations of self-pollinated species. Selections within natural populations and development of new genetic variation by cross. Methods of mass, pedigree, bulk and single seed descent. Achievement of pure lines by production of doubled haploids. Backcross: transfer of the dominant and of the recessive alleles.

8. Breeding procedures for cross-pollinated species (4 hours)

Knowledge obtained in the teaching unit 8

Genetic structure of the natural populations in relation to the Hardy-Weinberg law. Ecotypes. Recurrent selections to improve populations. Intra-population selections: mass selection, selection for families obtained by selfing and by crossing (test-cross families). Inter-populations selection: reciprocal recurrent selection. Synthetic varieties. Hybrids. Selection of the parental lines and estimate of their general and specific combining ability. Choice of the tester. Production of the commercial hybrid seed. Genetic, cytoplasmic and genetic-cytoplasmic male-sterility.

Applications (24 hours)

A1. Application of basic plant genetics to breeding (4 hours)

Knowledge obtained in the teaching unit A1

Review of basic genetic concepts for the applications in plant breeding

A2. Laboratory of molecular markers (4 hours)

Knowledge obtained in the teaching unit A2

The student acquires competence in the identification of DNA polymorphisms for the varietal identification and for application in the selection.

A3. Analysis of phenotypic variance (8 hours)

Knowledge obtained in the teaching unit A3

The student knows how to set a phenotypic evaluation and to analyze variation to obtain heritability and combining ability estimations and genotype by environment interaction.

A4. Analysis of genetic and phenotypic data to study the population structure and QTL mapping (8hours)

Knowledge obtained in the teaching unit A4

The student knows basic methods to understand population genetic structure, mapping of QTL and set up MAS.

Visits to the fields are also planned.
One visit to a seed company near Bologna and one to the selection nursery at the experimental farm of UNIBO and or to the germplasm collection. The visits to the fields mainly concern populations under selection and the lines or crosses tested in comparative trials, so as to allow the students to understand how, in practice, a selection work is carried out.


F. Lorenzetti et al. Miglioramento genetico delle piante agrarie. 2017. Edagricole, Milano.

G. Barcaccia, M. Falcinelli. Genetica e genomica. Volume II. Miglioramento genetico. 2005. Liguori editore, Napoli.

Notes from the course available on line through the Moodle platform (iol): Conceptual frameworks from classes, datasets used in practicals, collection of students works and of short reports, self-evaluation questionnaires. Blog/forum for discussion teacher-students on iol platform.

Teaching methods

The course includes lectures and practical exercises.

Lectures deal with the aspects concerning the reproductive biology of the herbaceous crops, the estimate and utilization of heritability in plant breeding, and the main breeding procedures which can be used in relation to the available genetic variability and to the objectives.

The practical exercises deal with the analysis of variance applied to data obtained by the students and with the calculation of heritability. Moreover, students will visit fields in which materials under selection are grown and comparative trials are made, so as to get a better comprehension of the breeding procedures described during the lectures.

Innovative methods will be employed such as discussion groups, casa-studies, seminars and simulation games in order to practice with subjects of local interest in the frame of applied plant breeding.

Assessment methods

The final exam is oral and includes three questions aimed at ascertaining the knowledge of the theoretical and applied aspects of plant breeding described during the lectures and the practical exercises. The exam is expected to last about 30 minutes.

Teaching tools

For lectures, overhead projector, PC and projector can be used.

Scientific literature provived by the Sistema Bibiliografico di Ateneo and provided through iol platform.

Blog/forum for discussion teacher-students on iol platform, accessible to the course student only.

The conceptual framework presented in classes and notes explaning how to approach textbooks will be made available to the students through iol platform.

For practical exercises, the teacher will set (i) laboratory demonstrations, (ii) real and simulated data for the analysis, (iii) experimental populations to be grown in the field for analysis of the genetic variability.

Office hours

See the website of Elisabetta Frascaroli

See the website of Marco Maccaferri