Scientists have taken a major step towards creating hybrid crop plants that can retain favourable traits generation after generation.

‘Most successful crop varieties are hybrids. But when hybrids go through sexual reproduction, their traits, such as fruit size or frost resistance, get scrambled and may be lost,’ said Simon Chan, assistant professor of plant biology at University of California-Davis and study author, reported the journal Science.

Some plants, especially fruit trees, can be cloned from cuttings, but this approach is impractical for most crops.

Other plants, especially weeds such as hawkweed and dandelions, can produce true seeds that are clones of themselves without sexual reproduction – a still poorly understood process called apomixis.

The new discovery gets to the same result as apomixis, although by a different route, Chan said.

The team hopes to produce crop plants, such as lettuce and tomato, that can fertilise themselves and produce clonal seeds.

Applications for provisional patents on the work have been filed.

‘We’re trying to make a hybrid that breeds true,’ Chan said, so that plants grown from the seed would be genetically identical to one parent.

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