Sorghum Revs Up Research

For the past several years, sorghum research has trailed that of corn and soybeans, but that could soon change. For example, DuPont Pioneer is partnering with the Sorghum Checkoff to improve sorghum breeding by focusing on haploid systems. 

“Conventional breeding requires rigorous cycles of backcrossing,” explains Justin Weinheimer, Sorghum Checkoff crop improvement director. “Double haploid systems reduce backcrossing so researchers create hybrids more efficiently and give farmers access to technology in sorghum faster.”

The group found two sorghum inducer lines—the first step to a double haploid breeding system. It was also the first discovery of its kind in sorghum. An inducer line is used to create sorghum progeny with a single set of chromosomes instead of the two copies normally found in sorghum. After these chromosomes are doubled, breeders can make hybrid crosses with all chromosomes homozygous in just one generation.

The process cuts the time needed to create an inbred line from the current four to six years down to just one, says Cleve Franks, DuPont Pioneer sorghum researcher. “This will allow us to expedite the breeding process tremendously, as well as streamline adding traits like herbicide, drought or sugarcane aphid tolerance.”

The technology is still non-GMO. Breeders use native traits and the “blank slate” inducer lines to quickly produce the desired cross. The total time for a new hybrid can be cut in half to as little as four years from start to finish.

The next step is to get new technology to farmers as soon as possible. 

“I’d like to see this used routinely with our breeders within the next three years,” Franks says. “Once it’s in place, new hybrids will move through our hybrid trialing system following the regular process.”

It’ll still be several years before farmers get to plant sorghum hybrids produced from this research, which was conducted in Iowa, Kansas, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Texas.

“Farmers who produce sorghum have not had access to sorghum technology like those in other crops,” Weinheimer says. “Our goal is to change that.”