Skip to main content
ARS Home » Northeast Area » Ithaca, New York » Robert W. Holley Center for Agriculture & Health » Plant, Soil and Nutrition Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #407338

Research Project: Improving Crop Efficiency Using Genomic Diversity and Computational Modeling

Location: Plant, Soil and Nutrition Research

Title: Scale up trials to validate modified crops' benefits

item KHAIPHO-BURCH, MERRIT - Cornell University
item COOPER, MARK - University Of Queensland
item CROSSA, JOSE - International Maize & Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT)
item DE LEON, NATALIA - University Of Wisconsin
item Holland, Jim - Jim
item LEWIS, RAMSEY - North Carolina State University
item MCCOUCH, SUSAN - Cornell University
item MURRAY, SETH - Texas A&M University
item RABBI, ISMAIL - International Center For Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)
item RONALD, PAMELA - University Of California, Davis
item ROSS-IBARRA, JEFFREY - University Of California, Davis
item WEIGEL, DETLEF - Max Planck Institute For Developmental Biology
item Buckler, Edward - Ed

Submitted to: Nature
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/16/2022
Publication Date: 9/20/2023
Citation: Khaipho-Burch, M., Cooper, M., Crossa, J., De Leon, N., Holland, J.B., Lewis, R., Mccouch, S., Murray, S., Rabbi, I., Ronald, P., Ross-Ibarra, J., Weigel, D., Buckler IV, E.S. 2023. Scale up trials to validate modified crops' benefits. Nature. 621:470-473.

Interpretive Summary: Increasing crop yield is critical for global populations. Yet, many crop molecular biology studies are touted as yield breakthroughs without sufficient replication to evaluate field performance, slowing progress within plant breeding. This paper addresses the problem of exaggerated claims about significant yield increases in crops by highlighting the lack of replication, inappropriate experimental designs, and not testing in real-world on-farm environments. We discuss that while single genes can have a positive impact on yield, they are most effective when combined with changes in agricultural practices and established methods routinely used in plant breeding programs (genomic prediction and selection). We also provide clear guidelines for scientists and reviewers to follow when evaluating the impact of single genes on crop productivity so that these problems are not perpetuated into the future. This perspective will help researchers and reviewers of single-gene studies to robustly critique the impacts of these genes before exaggerated claims are made. In the future, this may lead to higher-quality research studies on crop productivity, improved food security, and environmental sustainability. It also advances scientific practices in the field of crop genetics and molecular biology, ensuring that future research is grounded in robust methodologies and effective collaborations. If these guidelines are used and promoted across fields, they have the potential to benefit downstream producers, consumers, and society at large in a world experiencing climate change.

Technical Abstract: Agriculture has tremendous demands to feed an increasing population, reduce land impact, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and adapt to climate change. These factors depend on plant breeding and genetics to deliver the best crop varieties and agronomic practices that will deploy results across a billion hectares of cropland. Increasing crop yield is of paramount importance for global populations, yet many crop molecular biology studies are touted as yield breakthroughs without sufficient replication to evaluate field performance, detouring scientific progress within plant breeding. In this perspective, we detail many of the common issues that arise when testing the effects of single or multiple genes on crop yield and describe how these findings, when published in high-profile journals, skew global agricultural funding away from proven plant breeding methods. Lastly, we suggest community guidelines that researchers and reviewers can use to guide future experiments and to rigorously critique this body of research.