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VI. Conclusions and Research Needs

VI. Conclusions and Research Needs

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systems for plant culture or rapid screening must be viewed with skepticism.

Adequate resources should be allocated to field verification of such


Novel experiments will be required to gain an adequate understanding of

the impact of soil environments on phenotype, e.g., the study of phenotype

across a continuum of root environments between the endpoints of

aeroponic and field soil culture. The significance of numerous interacting

factors (temperature, oxygen, strength, water content, etc.) must be

recognized and experimental facilities constructed in which as many important physical parameters as possible are controlled.

Realization of the full potential for crop root system improvement remains a challenge to the quantitative geneticist, soil physicist, and root

physiologist. The traditional bounds of each discipline must be extended

until common ground is established and truly interdisciplinary studies

result. By comparison with the state of scientific research on plant shoots,

root science is in its infancy and may be expected to disclose many new and

exciting possibilities to further adapt crop plants to their environment.


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~ ~McGee,* L. Panella,4

A. A. R e i l l e ~ ,and

~ . ~F. R. Miller4

*Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, The Texas A&M University System

Wesiaco, Texas 78596

Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, Texas A&M University

College Station, Texas 77843



Having evolved over a great period of time and a broad spectrum of

species, plant breeding is a science-based technology directed towards

economic objectives (Simmonds, 1983). It is one component of agricultural

production and, along with agronomic practices, agricultural chemistry,

plant pathology, entomology, and agricultural engineering, has been

responsible for past successes associated with increased yields of food, feed,

fiber, and fuel at low costs to the consumer. Plant breeding has long since

passed from being an “art,” as some of the older plant breeders would lead

one to believe, and is now heavily dependent on the disciplines of genetics

and biometry.

During the past two decades, an integration of plant biochemistry and

physiology has allowed for the development of basic techniques, i.e., cell

and tissue culture, which have the potential for improving our understanding of plant biology. Early proponents of the cell and tissue culture

methodology expounded its advantages and predicted that this array of

I This article is a contribution of the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, College Station, Texas 77843. Approved as Technical Article No. 22187.

’ Present address: United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service,

Germplasm Resources Unit, NYSAES, Geneva, New York 14456.

’ Present address: DNA Plant Technology Corporation, Watsonville, California 95076.


Copyright 0 1987 by Academic Press. Inc.

All rights of reproduction in any form reserved.



of tools might supplant conventional plant breeding. It was suggested that

their implementation would cause an agricultural “revolution” which

greatly would exceed preceding revolutions initiated through the application of fertilizer and mechanization to the agricultural production system.

Fortunately, we all have mellowed a bit from the initial rhetoric

associated with cell and tissue culture techniques. Plant scientists now

realize that these techniques really cannot supplant plant breeding in all of

its many-faceted forms, but rather serve as adjuncts to it. Furthermore, the

uniqueness of individual crop species requires researchers to fit new techniques into current frameworks of crop improvement. With these considerations in mind, we attempt to highlight the “state of the discipline”

with regard to the status and potential of these techniques for the genetic

improvement of sorghum, Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench. Sorghum is

recognized not only as a source of food and feed in marginal production

areas, but as a potential “biomass” energy crop because of its productivity,

efficiency, and adaptability. Within this article, a framework is developed

in which the potential applications of cell and tissue culture techniques to

the genetic improvement of sorghum may be viewed and, also, their current

limitations may be identified. Specific developments in molecular biology as

related to sorghum improvement are considered beyond the scope of this




The origin of cultivated sorghum is agreed generally to have occurred on

the African continent (Mann et al., 1983); however, disagreement exists

whether the origin has a monophyletic or a polyphyletic basis. Therefore,

the systematics of sorghum are quite complex (de Wet et al., 1970; Doggett,

1970). Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench includes a diverse collection (Fig. 1)

including grass types and cultivated sorghum, all having a diploid

chromosome complement of 2n = 20. Harlan and de Wet (1972) have

devised a working classification of cultivated sorghum that encompasses

five basic races including bicolor, guinea, caudatum, kafir, and durra.

These races are identified by mature spikelet and panicle type. In addition,

10 hybrid races are recognized, of which kafir-caudatum is the source of

most hybrid grain sorghum grown in the United States (Harlan, 1972).

Other important sorghum types grown include sorghum (sorgos) for syrup

and sugar, grass types for forages, and specialty types such as popping

sorghum and broomcorn. Although sorghum encompasses a great diversity

of types, the basic morphology and anatomy is consistent. This is particularly

important when considering source tissues for culture establishment.



FIG. 1. Phenotypic diversity exhibited in Sorghum hicolor (L.) Moench. (Courtesy of L.

W . Panella.)



The seed germinates with the emergence of a coleoptile and coleorhiza.

The shoot apex is forced to the soil surface by the expansion of cells in the

mesocotyl region, while one to several primary roots may emerge from the

embryonic axis. A node forms at the juncture of the mesocotyl and the

shoot apex, from which secondary roots and adventitious buds develop.

The primary roots and mesocotyl deteriorate at this early stage, and it is the

secondary roots that continue to support the sorghum plant. Secondary

shoots may form from the adventitious buds at this basal node. The culm is

comprised of nodes and internodes. Internode tissue may be thick or pithy,

juicy or dry, and either insipid or sweet. Leaves arise from the nodal areas

and consist of a sheath region and blade. The sheath base is primarily

meristematic tissue which allows the sheath to elongate.

In cultivated sorghum, floral initiation may occur 30-75 days or more

following germination, with anthesis (flowering) occurring from 15-30 days

later. The sorghum inflorescence is a panicle that matures from the apex

downward. The rachis branches contain paired spikelets, one sessile and

one pedicellate. The sessile spikelet generally contains one fertile and one

sterile floret; sometimes both are fertile, resulting in twin seededness. The

pedicelled spikelet may contain a floret with functional anthers but is usually without a functional ovary. Anthesis generally occurs during the early

morning (around sunrise) when paired lodicules at the base of the spikelet

swell, forcing the glumes apart and exposing the stigmas and anthers. This

flowering process takes about 10-30 min.

The caryopsis reaches physiological maturity about 30-35 days following

pollination. The mature seed coat consists of a pericarp and fused testa. The

pericarp color may appear as red, yellow, or white. The testa may also contain pigmented compounds, composed mainly of phenolics and tannins

(Rooney and Miller, 1982; Oberthur et al., 1983; Doherty et al., 1987). (For

more details of growth and development, see Rangaswami Ayyangar and

Panduranga Rao, 1936; Artschwager, 1948; Artschwager and McGuire,

1949; Paulson, 1969; Doggett, 1970; Wall and Ross, 1970; Vanderlip and

Reeves, 1972).



Regardless of the crop involved, a breeding program must be defined

with set goals. In addition, the program must have the means to achieve

those goals. Naturally, the screening and selection criteria vary with the

crop, location, and goals. A plant breeder may try to address any one or any

combination of these goals. The earlier in the improvement program the

breeder can identify the trait@)desired, the more quickly progress can be

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VI. Conclusions and Research Needs

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