New genetic plant breeding strategies help develop better sugar beets


In Ireland, plant biotechnologists from the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway identified genetic breeding strategies to develop bigger and better sugar beets. For crops such as sugar beet, this means the development of varieties that produce more per hectare, while reducing inputs.

Professor Charles Spillane’s Genetics and Biotechnology Lab at NUI Galway has been working closely with the international plant breeding company KWS SAAT to develop genetic breeding strategies to produce hybrid sugar beet varieties with higher yield that can maintain high levels of sugar production. Using a combination of molecular genetics laboratory work and large-scale sugar beet experimental field trials conducted in Cork, the team discovered that the most efficient way to develop higher yielding sugar beet varieties was by tapping the benefits of hybrid vigour.

Spillane said: “We need to consider sugars not only as ingredients for sweetening of foods, but also as the molecules upon which a more sustainable sugar-based bioeconomy can be developed that produces multiple bio-based products from sugars. Bioproducts or bio-based products are materials, chemicals and energy derived from renewable biological resources. Sugar beet processing factories are now designed as sugar beet ‘biorefineries’ where sugar is but one of the many bioproducts generated, along with many non-food products such as specialty high-value chemicals, bio-based materials and bioenergy that can displace fossil-fuel derived products.”