Want to hear something extraordinary? Chances are, almost everything you’ve eaten in your entire life was genetically modified. The same was true for your parents…and your grandparents.

For more than 10,000 years, mankind has selectively bred plants and animals. The cows you see in farmer’s fields bear little resemblance to the ancient Aurochs from which they descended. And the corn you eat is the domesticated version of a wild grass called teosinte.

One of the main ways we’re improving agriculture

Monsanto is well known for our biotechnology. Therefore, you might be surprised to learn we spend 46% of our R&D investment on breeding—the same agricultural technique that produced modern cattle and corn.

What is plant breeding?

Simply put, plant breeding is the process of using two parent plants to create an “offspring” plant. Just like a newborn baby will share characteristics of each of its parents, so a new seed will share characteristics of the “mother” and “father” plants that created it.

flower punnett square

Applying science to make breeding better

In the past, plant breeders were essentially blind to the inner workings of plants. To understand how traits were passed along from plant to plant, they had to actually breed the plants, grow them and wait to see the results.

With the benefit of modern science, breeders can now “see” inside the plants they intend to breed. Using a technique called “marker-assisted breeding,” our plant scientists can examine the DNA of seeds to find the ones that will produce the best plants. First, genetic “markers” are identified in plants’ DNA that are linked to important traits such as disease resistance, drought tolerance, yield, taste, nutrition, etc. The markers are then used like a test to screen all of the plants available for breeding and accurately select and breed only the seeds that will produce plants with the desirable traits.

dna marker assisted breeding