Making crosses

After a long day in the sun, testing one’s fortitude in the hope of making something meaningful I retire to rest so that tomorrow we might try again. At work we are making crosses. Nope, not religious icons. We are crossing different strains of soybean. Beginning the process of developing new and better varieties for the future. A tedious affair; soybean flowers are fairly small, easily destroyed, and not inclined to tell you if they’re happy with your intentions. To be fair, I don’t believe I know any humans who would be fine with someone else lining them up with various other mates with a view to obtain offspring with characteristics desired by the ‘other’.

purple male soy

Purple soybean flower, one sepal removed; ready to be used as a male in a cross.

How tedious you might ask. Sufficiently, I might answer. But not so much for me any longer. I’ve been at this for forty years. For someone who has never tried this it can be a serious test of patience. And so for me the challenge isn’t so much making the cross as teaching, inspiring, cajoling, and helping another to take on the task; to not dismay, quit, or lose heart. It can be done. Insects buzzing in your ear? Concentrate on the flower. Fragile sepals and petals not cooperating? Try to relax and be still. You will figure this out.

Success is a pregnant soybean pod. It will be many days yet before any pregnancy evaluation is possible. Until then you just keep making crosses and trusting that your efforts will be rewarded. There are hundreds of thousands of new and different soybean lines in the nursery giving testament to the efforts made in previous summers. These will be evaluated in turn and a fortunate few will advance to make the varieties of tomorrow… also in turn these selections will come back into a future crossing block for mating with still other varieties as the process continues. The circle of life (cue Lion King music).

'06 Aug Xblk GL3958 with a cross by Jarod

Two seeded pod resulting from a cross pollination ~ three weeks after making the cross.

If asked for a motto for a plant breeder I would offer this: I never get mad, and seldom get angry. But every now and then I get a little cross.

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8 comments

  1. Nice, I had not thought about the delicate labor that goes into crossing. Good for you…and for us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Two things along that line – I’ve always enjoyed kidding the animal breeders who merely have to put the sire and dam into the same pen… but then they also have artificial insemination, which does make playing with delicate flowers seem preferable. The second thing is realizing that the plants themselves are very robust, capable of standing up to nearly all insults. But reproduction is a very delicate dance.

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  2. I was a plant genetics major early on in grad school and did some wheat flower emasculations, but no actual crossing. So I was, temporarily, a half-assed plant breeder. It went downhill from there and I soon switched to ecology, where half-assedness is a decided virtue, expected even.

    On the positive side, I know what cleistogamous means and this certainly makes me superior to the average man on the street, who typically is also unversed in proper tweezer protocol.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Half-assed plant breeder… (even if only temporarily):
      We note your knowledge of cleistogamy and will add your name to the list of superior persons vs the average man on the street. It has necessarily become a longish list – by the mere virtue of there being so darn many men on the street. In order to enhance your personal entry on the list I’ve appended a note to honor your correct usage of emasculation, and your fortitude as evidenced by not quitting once plant breeding lost its luster in your eyes. [we have chosen to overlook evidence of firecracker maleficence in a vehicle with a buddy… chalking that up to youthful indiscretion].

      Before we go, however, we would like to make one observation about statistics as applied to average people. It has been shown now through a long history of the human species that the average person has one testicle.

      Binomial distribution you say… ok, we’ll grant that (and add another couple points to your entry)… but still, averages are mean like that.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. To follow on to Jim Bouldin’s mention of a botanical characteristic (cleistogamy) the management here at Gulliver’s Pulse has tasked me with drawing up a list of other somewhat esoteric botanical (or genetic, or breeding) terms not frequently discussed among the folks who frequent our streets. Terms such as alloploidy, epistasis, residual heterozygosity, transgressive segregation, double fertilization, meiotic drive, missing heritability, and various types of self incompatibility will occasionally be brought up and highlighted in a post that defines the term, shows an example from nature, and if capable I’ll show how the phenomenon plays a role in plant (and or) animal breeding efforts.

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    1. Oh this sounds good indeed Clem…real science blogging if ever there was.

      Could I perhaps also suggest a post on the exciting recent developments in micro-explosive applications for anther removal? You want to remove the question mark from male sterility–well there’s your technology right there.

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      1. Need a little help. Not finding a whole lot on the subject of micro-explosive anther removal. Have to admit though, it could be a game changer. If you’d be so kind as to point to some work on the subject then I’ll have the staff here at GP dig into it. If one does adopt said technology, would the proper technique for warning one’s co-workers of a potential deployment to shout, “Fire in the hole!”?? After all, you wouldn’t want unaccompanied anthers just flying all about the nursery all willy-nilly.

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      2. No you don’t want dangerous situations like that arising. You have to know what you’re doing. I refer you to Edgar K.B. Montrose as your guy for all such matters:

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