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Shaping our food: an overview of crop and livestock breeding

Lehrman, Anna; Chatzopoulou, Sevasti; Eriksson, Dennis; Jonas, Elisabeth; Levander, Fredrik; Nicolia, Alessandro; Rydhmer, Lotta; Röcklinsberg, Helena; Sandin, Per; Zhu, Li-Hua


The domestication of plants and animals is a long and on-going process that has shaped not only the domesticated species and the landscape, but also the humans who have domesticated them. For example, the evolution of our immune system has been strongly influenced by the close contact between humans and domestic animals. The changes in domesticated species have been dramatic, from the wild red junglefowl hen raising two clutches of 10 chicks per year, to today’s laying hen producing more than 300 eggs per year. In one hundred years the average wheat yield has increased from two tonnes per hectare to six tonnes per hectare in many European countries. Although part of this increase is due to management techniques, fertilizers, and pesticides, the genetic component of such progress has been substantial.

With an increased knowledge of evolution, the understanding of heredity, and the discovery of chromosomes and genes, we have gone from unintentional selection to advanced breeding programmes. Our ever-increasing knowledge of the mechanisms behind different traits can be used to customize the sources of our food. Thanks to these breeding programmes, we now have access to healthier livestock and crops, and are producing milk, meat, and grain at levels our ancestors could only have dreamed of. With this book we wish to provide an overview of the methods and techniques used in the domestication and development of new agricultural crop varieties and breeds of livestock. We also describe the legislation and discusses different ethical views on the use of biotechnology in crop and animal breeding.

This book is published within the Mistra Biotech research programme, financed by the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research (Mistra) and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). This second edition is a shortened version of the previous edition. We are grateful to Inger Åhman and Marie Nyman for helpful comments on the manuscript.

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Publisher: Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences